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State rep takes on power line agents who pressured residents
Advocates against Transource Energy share knowledge during an informal meeting at the Airville Volunteer Fire Station in Airville, Thursday, Aug. 24, 2017.
Western Land Services agents accused of pressuring private property owners in southeastern York County were recently admonished by state Rep. Kristin Phillips-Hill.
The company was hired as a Transource Energy subcontractor to survey the land where a new overhead power line has been proposed for construction. Transource, which is overseeing the construction of the project, was granted Pennsylvania utility status in December, which means it has the power of eminent domain, but it does not yet have the approval to build the power line.
The York Township Republican wrote to Transource that she had received numerous complaints from constituents. Landowners told her they experienced “threatening behavior,” which included Western Land Services agents claiming they were going to “call the sheriff’s office and arrest residents who did not sign letters” that allowed them access to their properties.
“This type of coercive behavior and harassment by your contracted agent is unacceptable and illegal at best,” Phillips-Hill wrote. “I am requesting punitive actions be taken to ensure this type of disrespectful behavior does not happen again during the remainder of the project.”
Phillips-Hill also noted that a letter sent to landowners Jan. 5 was “inaccurate” and “misrepresentative of the proper procedures set in place under the Eminent Domain Code and public codes of the Commonwealth.”
Pennsylvania Utility Commission deputy press secretary Dave Hixson said, "if a landowner grants permission, then the utility can access the property. Also, the utility can go onto private property without permission but only after proper notice."
Phillips-Hill reminded Transource that they need to issue a 10-day notice to all landowners before accessing private property and that they need to have an "appropriate certificate and orders from the PUC to operate as a public utility."
"Transource and all contractors and employees representing Transource are committed to, and are expected to, treat all individuals within communities with respect and honesty,” Transource spokeswoman Abby Foster said. A follow-up letter was mailed to landowners, she said.
Patrick Murphy, a Transource contractor, wrote to landowners Jan. 19, “Transource PA must supply information about the proposed line routes to the PUC that is secured through surveys and field work. Transource PA can now conduct some, but not all, of this field work relying on voluntary permission from many landowners.”
Murphy described the Jan. 5 letter as “premature” and clarified that if or when the legal process is necessary to proceed with securing survey information, Transource will not use it until the PUC issues a final order regarding Transource PA’s status as a public utility.
He explained to landowners the legal process will only be used to the “extent necessary.”
Citizens to Stop Transource board member Jay McGinnis said landowners won’t be “strong-armed.” He said he’s still hopeful his group can influence the $320 million market efficiency project’s outcome.
“We’re not going to make it easy on them,” McGinnis said.
The Fawn Grove farmer added he’s going to require a court order to permit contractors on his property.
“I feel good about the group and what we’re doing,” McGinnis said. “As far as I know, everyone approached resisted signing the document. I feel that there’s a good possibility of us stopping the power line. We’ve got to do something, or else it will just go through.”
According to the Citizens to Stop Transource website, the group is hosting a letter-writing campaign meeting 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 25, at Airville Fire Hall. McGinnis said sample letters will be available to landowners and can be used as guides to protest the power line.
Transource Energy was hired by PJM Interconnection to build a $320 million "market efficiency" project known as the Independence Energy Connection.
York County is in the east segment of the project, which includes 16 miles of new overhead electric transmission line that will connect a new substation in Lower Chanceford Township to the existing Conastone Substation near Norrisville in Harford County, Maryland.