Judge: No extensive studies by Transource allowed on 36 landowners' properties

Jana Benscoter
York Dispatch
  • Judge Richard K. Renn said Transource Energy's request to conduct discovery studies, surveys, tests, soundings and appraisals could lead to landowners' anxiety.
Transource Energy's proposed power line would run 16 miles from Lower Chanceford Township in York County to northern Maryland. (Photo courtesy of Transource)

Judge Richard K. Renn ruled Wednesday that Transource Energy is not allowed to do extensive research on 36 landowners' properties.

Transource was hired last year by PJM Interconnection, the regional transmission grid operator, to build a $320 million “market efficiency” project called the “Independence Energy Connection.”

York County is in the eastern segment of a proposed route, which 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.

Litigation: Earlier this year, 36 landowners who could be affected by the project denied Transource land agents entry onto their properties. The energy company took them to court recently to argue it needs to conduct discovery studies, surveys, tests, soundings and appraisals, and that it has the right as a Pennsylvania public utility to access their land through eminent domain.

Judge Richard K. Renn. (Submitted/photo)

However, Renn noted that the "sole purpose" of Transource's litigation is "to gain access to defendants' lands," and that is not enough for him to allow it. 

“The problem with (Transouce Energy’s) case is that its route for the proposed electric line is just that, proposed,” Renn wrote. “Its final course may run over some of the defendants’ lands, all of their lands, or none of their lands.”

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, which has the final say on the matter, has not approved the proposed route. Renn wrote it "certainly weighs against (Transource's) request to trample lands of a particular defendant in the hope that it might actually survey lands along the final route."

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

More:PUC schedules Transource powerline public input hearings

More:York County recommends PUC deny Transource power line

A list of goals, which were the same for each property, was submitted by Transource to the court. Renn said the goals reflected "lack of particularity with respect to each defendant’s parcel of land" and could create "understandable anxiety to an individual landowner."

He wrote that the goals fall "far short of the specificity required by the discovery rule."

The "proposed intrusion appears to be substantial," he explained, adding, "we have no assurances that a particular defendant’s land will actually be burdened by the electric line.”

Hugh McPherson, of Maple Lawn Farms Farm Market & Orchards, examines a blondee apple in a young orchard on the farm in Fawn Township, Friday, July 21, 2017. Dawn J. Sagert photo

The court is not inclined to allow Transource to "disrupt" the landowners' "peaceful possession and enjoyment of their lands with soundings and drillings," as well as "trimming or cutting vegetation," he wrote.

Exception: The one exception, Renn confirmed, is "the studies for the bog turtle appear to consist of relatively low impact" to the landowners. 

"We conclude that the minimal intrusion needed to conduct the bog turtle survey would not be so burdensome that we must preclude it at this stage of the litigation," Renn wrote.

Todd Burns, Transource director, said that the energy company believes it has the "right to access properties to conduct non-invasive surveys."

York-based Stock and Leader attorney Greg Bair, who represents about 26 of the landowners, said he is "very pleased with Judge Renn's ruling."

"Given that Transource only has a proposed route for the transmission line, which may or may not eventually include the landowners’ property, I believe, as a preliminary matter, Judge Renn’s decision to not permit extensive studies at the current time on these properties is the fairest resolution we could have hoped for and received," Bair said.