Hundreds to participate in power line case

CHARLESTON, WEST VIRGINIA - The state Public Service Commission has granted 285 county commissions, communities, companies, groups and individuals the right to participate in a case that will decide whether two utilities will be allowed to build a 280-mile electric transmission line across West Virginia.

The Barbour, Braxton, Jefferson, Lewis, Tucker and Upshur county commissions were granted permission to intervene, or participate, in the case, as were the Jefferson County Board of Education, the city of Charles Town, the Sierra Club, the West Virginia Nature Conservancy, the West Virginia State Building and Construction Trades Council, the commission's own Consumer Advocate Division, and the West Virginia Energy Users Group, which represents large industrial electricity customers.

In addition, groups in Kanawha, Putnam and 19 other counties were granted permission to intervene.

Dozens of companies and individuals were granted permission to intervene based on the fact that they are located within 10 miles of the centerline of the proposed transmission line.

American Electric Power and Allegheny Power unveiled their plan to build the $1.8 billion high-voltage electric transmission in May. The project is called the Potomac Appalachian Transmission Highline, or PATH.

It would cross 14 counties and run from the John Amos power plant near Winfield to just beyond the Eastern Panhandle.

The utilities say the line is needed to bolster the nation's electrical grid.

Many of the interveners adamantly object to the proposed line.

For example, Flatwoods developer John Skidmore and his wife, Carol, said the proposed route for the power line cuts across their 250-acre farm near Rock Cave in Upshur County and within 300 to 350 feet of their home, which was built in 2008. The Skidmores said their home is worth at least $400,000.

"The proposed PATH route and power line will detrimentally affect, and cause a devaluation of, the Skidmore property," the couple said. In addition, "the proposed power line may expose Skidmore, and their family and guests, to harmful EMF (Electric and Magnetic Field) radiation." Also, "Skidmore is concerned about the environmental impacts of the PATH power line upon a substantial portion of the Skidmore property."

The Skidmores are asking the commission to either deny the PATH application or relocate the route.

Kenna Seal of Sutton also wants the commission to deny the application. Seal is a former Braxton County school superintendent and currently works for the state Department of Education.

"The proposed PATH route crosses in the middle of my farm," Seal said. "The proposed path of the line is about 1,000 feet from my house and will be visible from my back porch and lawn, creating visual pollution as well as noise pollution of hissing, buzzing, popping and crackling sounds. The line will diminish the value of the farm and destroy any crop or forest production permanently.

"The line will constitute a permanent health hazard to me and my descendents or assigns with the emission of EMF and the harmful effects of herbicide spraying for control of brush and trees," Seal said.

"The real need for the line is dubious, given the greener and more environmentally sensitive technologies. Coal-fired power plants pushing electricity to distant places is old technology from the last century that will be viewed in the future as a horrific mistake. Other renewable resources, even nuclear power plants located at the point of need would be cheaper, fairer, and more efficient.

"West Virginia and my farm are not our Northeast neighbor's keeper," Seal wrote. "This is worse than the abandoned railroad going through my farm, but represents the same type of illogical reasoning. It constitutes a new version of the exploitation of West Virginia by outside interests.…"

A 31-page order issued by the commission sets out a schedule for proceedings. Public comment hearing dates are yet to be decided but the commission said it expects to hold them in September and October. The deadline for the commission to issue a decision is June 21, 2010.

A status hearing is scheduled to review the current status of the case and issues described in the order. Because of the large number of people expected to attend, it is being held in the Culture Center theater.



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