100 hear utility outline its plans

RAEFORD, NORTH CAROLINA - More than 100 people gathered in the Raeford Civic Center to learn more about plans for a high voltage power line expected to run through Hoke County.

The public workshop was sponsored by Progress Energy, the company building the line.

Mike Hughes, a spokesman for the energy company, said the line - which runs from Richmond County to Fort Bragg - will help ensure electricity remains reliable and will provide benefits to the entire region, including Fort Bragg and Hoke, Moore and Cumberland counties.

Residents packed the Civic Center, hoping to find out whether any of the proposed routes for the line would go through their property - and if so, what would happen from there. Joseph Monroe and Patricia Hurst said they came to the workshop looking for answers.

The couple owns 63 acres of farmland off Turnpike Road in the western part of the county. One of the proposed routes goes through two different sections of their property - a fact that worries the couple, who could lose the land by eminent domain if they don't agree to sell an easement to Progress Energy.

"It's my parents' property, and for somebody to just come and take it," Hurst said, shaking her head, her words trailing off. "It's like a pauper fighting city hall," Monroe added.

Hughes said the workshop was a way to inform the public, as well as get additional input from the people. He acknowledged that it was an unpopular but necessary part of providing power.

He also said that the final route had yet to be decided, but that the company would take the route that had the least effect on people and property. "North Carolina is growing by 30,000 people a year," Hughes said. "That's the size of a mid-sized city. Our responsibility is to make sure that 10 years from now that when an individual turns on a light switch, it works."

But residents said they still worry that the energy company doesn't have them or Hoke County's best interests at heart. How were the routes chosen? Why can't the lines go through Fort Bragg or conservation areas to minimize the impact on private property? Those are some of the questions residents have asked.

But the answers are distressing: Fort Bragg won't allow the lines to come through, and conservation land is federally protected. That leaves only private property as an option.

"We all understand that progress has to be made, but to gut the prettiest part of this county and the part with the highest property tax base is a mistake," said Joan Thiele, a landowner. Thiele and her husband bought 370 acres in western Hoke County in 1985 and have since divided it into 12 parcels for the upscale, wooded subdivision, White Oak Farms.

While the proposed routes do not go through White Oak Farms, the routes do run nearby, which could devalue the multimillion dollar subdivision as well as some high-cost horse farms and estates nearby, Thiele said.

That, she said, could be a big problem for the county, which relies on property taxes for the majority of its tax base. "If you're going to do this and do it responsibly, do the groundwork first," she said.


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