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Landowners will fight Transource at state level, not county

Jana Benscoter
York Dispatch
Hugh McPherson, of Maple Lawn Farms Farm Market & Orchards, talks about the impact that a proposed power line by Transource could have on he and his father's family-owned agribusiness in Fawn Township, Friday, July 21, 2017. Dawn J. Sagert photo
  • “Transource Energy has now filed 133 applications for eminent domain at the Public Utility Commission,” said attorney Greg Bair.
  • Greg Goss, affected landowner, emphasized that all Pennsylvanians should be upset about this because it could redefine eminent domain.

Greg Goss’s decision to allow Transource Energy land agents onto his property to begin preliminary research for a new, high-voltage transmission line wasn’t easy, but it also isn’t a sign of surrender, he said.

Stock and Leader attorneys, who represent 25 of 36 landowners Transource Energy took to court for denying its land agents land access earlier this year, told their clients to take a step back and fight the bigger fight at the state Public Utility Commission. 

According to Judge Richard K. Renn’s recent order, attorney Greg Bair explained, Transource was not immediately granted access to the 36 properties except to conduct bog turtle studies. 

“Transource Energy has now filed 133 applications for eminent domain at the Public Utility Commission,” Bair said.

Greg Bair recommended that his clients fight Transource Energy at the state level, and not the county level. (Submitted)

Renn’s decision, he wrote, could evoke a trial. Landowners had a deadline of Wednesday, May 30, to respond to Transource, Bair said, but he wants his clients to use their resources wisely.

“We can delay this,” Bair said. “But I don’t think it will have any impact at the PUC level, where the final decision is made.”

Most, if not all, of the landowners aren’t going to respond to Transource, which means they will default to Renn's judgment, attorney Jody Anderson Leighty said.

That means, Bair explained, that Transource in June can access the properties.

“It doesn’t mean that any of the landowners are waving the white flag and giving in,” Anderson Leighty said. “It’s best to continue the fight at the PUC level.”

Transource Energy's proposed power line would run 16 miles from Lower Chanceford Township in York County to northern Maryland. (Photo courtesy of Transource)

Goss emphasized that all Pennsylvanians should be upset about this case because it could redefine eminent domain.

“It’s a for-profit, out-of-state private company,” Goss said. “It’s not the state taking our land. Eminent domain was set up for the government to take property for the need of everyone, especially for everyone in the affected area. This doesn’t warrant that.”

Hugh McPherson, whose property also could be impacted, said it’s insulting that the Ohio-based company is taking advantage of a law that guarantees Transource a 10.9 percent return on the project's total amount regardless of completion.

PJM Interconnection, the regional electric transmission grid operator, selected Transource last year to build the “market efficiency” project, known as the $320 million Independence Energy Connection, according to Transource.

After receiving public input, Transource altered its plan for a power line through York County to use monopoles that would have impact on local farming practices. (Photo courtesy of Transource)

If Transource cannot prove a need for the project, it could be scraped before construction begins, McPherson said.

“And that all happens at the PUC level, and none of it happens at the York County level,” he said.

York County is in the east segment, 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.

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

“It’s beyond York County landowners,” McPherson continued. “If you’re a ratepayer, you’re going to pay for this project. They say it’s a regional project, but it’s hundreds of millions of dollars transferred from Pennsylvania to other places.”

McPherson said Citizens to Stop Transource, a nonprofit opposing the project, will continue to organize. It is hosting a Bluegrass & Folk Music Community Festival from 3 to 10 p.m. Saturday, June 9, at Airville Volunteer Fire Co., 3576 Delta Road, Airville.