Powerline project could lower bills, disrupt views, spur court battle in York County
Southeastern York County is known for its rolling farmland, beautiful countryside and rural tranquility, according to Anne Druck, president of the York County Convention & Visitors Bureau.
It's for that reason she hopes The Independence Energy Connection project “respects any and all affected property owners.”
Hugh McPherson, of Maple Lawn Farms Farm Market & Orchards, reacts to Transource proposal for location of power lines through corn maze.
The project: Landowners will help guide the project, Transource Energy Director Todd Burns said. Up to 300 landowners in Maryland and Pennsylvania could be affected by 135-foot towers with 30-by-30-foot-wide bases and 130-foot rights of way.
Totaling $320 million, the proposal includes approximately 40 miles of overhead transmission lines, two new substations and additional upgrades, according to Transource Energy. The new transmission lines will connect to lines in Maryland and Pennsylvania and are meant to provide low-cost electricity, the company said.
Transource Energy predicts rate payers will save $600 million over 15 years.
Not in my backyard: Tourism is a money-maker in southeastern York County, Druck said, adding that the unspoiled farmland is part of the region's appeal.
Pick-your-own experiences and corn maze agritourism infuse the county with more than $943 million a year, creating more than 7,700 jobs, she said.
With as many as 50,000 visitors a year, Druck explained, it's sites such as Maple Lawn Farm that boost the economy by drawing out-of-state visitors. The farm employs as many as 75 people during its peak season, she said.
“It’s a local tourist destination,” said 42-year-old Hugh McPherson, who operates Maize Quest Fun Park on Maple Lawn Farm. The McPherson family farm is also home to a winery.
The first map supplied by Transource Energy showed a 135-foot tower “smack in the middle of two bridges” in his corn maze, he said.
“It just seems like there’s a different way they could go,” McPherson said. “You don’t come to the winery to see the high-tension power lines.”
Following the first open house held in June, McPherson said, he submitted his concerns online to Transource Energy.
A revised second map has been updated online, and will be presented to landowners from 6 to 9 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 10, in the cafeteria at Kennard-Dale High School in Fawn Grove.
The company continues to take comments online, by phone, by mail and in person at the open house in August, Transource said in a statement.
After the next phase of incorporating the public's input into determining a proposed route, Transource community affairs representative Abby Foster said, agents will review the fair market value for property in the area and extend an offer to landowners for easements.
“In the end, it may not matter about how you feel,” said 72-year-old Paul McPherson, Hugh McPherson's father.
But others are ready for a fight.
"They'll have to declare it eminent domain," farmer Jay McGinnis said. "But, the money is going to have to be decided by a court. I'm not going to make it easy for them.”
McGinnis owns 500 acres in Fawn Township, of which 250 acres have been in his family since 1850, he said. He said the map places two towers on his property.
McGinnis and his father, Ross McGinnis, an attorney with Stock and Leader, have already sent a warning letter to Transource.
"I am fully aware that if you get this project approved from Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, I cannot stop your exercise of power of eminent domain," wrote Ross McGinnis, who has practiced cases like this for 60 years.
The father-and-son duo said they understand their land could be seized through the power of eminent domain. It all comes down to where Transource Energy decides to build its power lines, they said.
Ross McGinnis continued, "But, this I can tell you and this I will do, my claim for damages and my son's claim for damages will not be settled short of a jury trial in the courts of York County."
An application for the final proposed project has not yet been filed with the Pennsylvania Utility Commission, said the commission's press secretary, Nils Hagen-Frederiksen.
Burns said Transource hopes to submit a formal application in 2018.
Community contribution: If the project is approved by the Pennsylvania Utility Commission, Transource Energy will purchase local supplies and hire local workers, Burns said.
The energy company pays compensation for crop loss or damages during construction, which is handled during one-on-one discussions with affected landowners, Foster said.
"I think it's wonderful," said 58-year-old Fawn Township business owner Joanne Wilson. Her pizzeria has been in her family for 41 years, and she has owned it for nine. "Our electric bills are ridiculous. They are way out of line."
Wilson said she's noticed that her month-to-month bills have increased from $100 to $150 a month, and she has done nothing differently. Her hope is the new transmission power line will offer her competitive electricity prices.
"(Transource Energy) compensates farmers for their land, and brings their yards back up to better than it was. I say bring it on. Bring in the construction workers; I'll feed them all," Wilson said.