Landowners, Transource meet in York County Court over power line project

Jana Benscoter
York Dispatch

The company hired to build a $320 million high-voltage overhead power line took 36 southern York County landowners to court Wednesday, April 25, in a civil lawsuit. 

Transource Energy said the project, which the company said is intended to alleviate energy congestion, will affect the landowners' properties.

"At the heart of this dispute is the resistance of the property owners to allow us access onto their real estate for the purpose of making studies, surveys, tests, soundings and appraisals as a now-authorized condemnor," said James Kutz of Harrisburg-based Post & Schell, which is representing Transource. 

PJM Interconnection selected the company last year to build the "market efficiency" project, known as the "Independence Energy Connection."

Transource has submitted an application to the state Public Utility Commission for an east segment that includes approximately 16 miles of new transmission line that will connect a new substation in Lower Chanceford Township to the existing Conastone Substation, near Norrisville in Harford County, Maryland.

There also is a west segment that runs through Franklin County, for which Transource submitted a separate application to the PUC.

Citizens Against Transource members leave a hearing at the York County Judicial Center Wednesday, April 25, 2018. Bill Kalina photo

Transource is asking Judge Richard K. Renn to provide it with access to the York County properties, while Greg Bair, the York-based Stock and Leader attorney representing about 26 of the landowners, claims Transource does not have the authority to enter private property. 

Kutz argued at Wednesday's hearing that the PUC recognizes Transource as a Pennsylvania public utility, and therefore the eminent domain code suggests requirements with "entitlement to entry have been satisfied."

He added Transource is seeking a final order, which would allow the company entry with a 10-day notice. 

However, Renn said Transource's motions confused him.

"The bottom line is you filed an action against these people for the sole purpose of going on their property," the judge said. "I don't know that that's recognized in the law. I haven't seen any legal authority you can file the action for the sole end purpose of going on somebody's property. That's the problem I'm having." 

Kutz said his client has a statutory right to entry. He said the land agents' work is part of the requirements to supply the PUC with as much information about the project as possible. 

More:State rep takes on power line agents who pressured residents

More:Transource Energy goes to court for access to 36 York County properties

Renn also questioned Bair's position, asking him how Transource can lay out a "viable route" for the PUC to examine without going onto the landowners' property.

Bair explained that there "has been no approval of any specific project." He backed up that statement with PUC documentation that said Transource cannot access property without an approved project. 

Citizens Against Transource Energy members leave a hearing at the York County Judicial Center Wednesday, April 25, 2018. Bill Kalina photo

"Without that, they have nothing," he said. 

Bair speculated that Renn will render his decision within three to five days. 

Abby Foster, spokeswoman for Transource Energy, said having access to the properties gives a "boots-on-the-ground perspective," which allows them to come up with a realistic approach to completing the project that is respectful of environmental factors and property boundaries.

More:Foes doubt study that says power line would create 100+ jobs

Any damages incurred throughout the process would be repaid to the landowners, Foster added. 

Dolores Krick, a landowner taken to court, said "it's becoming almost a full-time job keeping everything in order." 

"We are very committed to stopping this project," she said. "We'll do whatever we have to and use whatever energy is needed to do that."