Residents ready legal fight for power line changes

GHENT–Concerned town residents are gathering forces to challenge a potential new high voltage power line in their community.

“We have a beautiful community filled with wonderful resources–farms, pastures, wetlands, Art Omi and more–that a high voltage power line would have a terrible impact on,” said Koethi Zan, a member of the steering committee of a group called Protect Ghent.

Although a formal application for the power line is not expected until sometime in April, preliminary meetings between Binghamton-based utility NYSEG and the Town of Ghent indicate the 10.6 mile 115-kilovolt (kV) transmission line will run across property owned by Omi International Arts Center, near The Fields Sculpture Park, as well as through several working farms, land designated for conservation, a historic graveyard and dozens of pieces of personal property.

“We think they have an alternative,” said Rose Vining, Art Omi Facilities Director. “We would like them to consider using it.”

“It’s very unclear why NYSEG needs this high voltage line,” said Ms. Zan.  “NYSEG even acknowledged there is a low voltage solution in prior meetings with the town.”

“The low voltage solution would make a huge difference to the community,” said Ms. Zan. “But NYSEG doesn’t want to do it because it’s more expensive.”

In response to an inquiry from The Columbia Paper, NYSEG spokesperson Clayton Ellis wrote in an email, “We are drafting an Article VII application for the Columbia County Transmission Project. We expect to file the application with the New York State Department of Public Service in April,” the email said.

“Once the application is submitted, we will notify affected property owners and other stakeholders that the application is available for public review at locations to be determined,” wrote Mr. Ellis.

NYSEG has said the new overhead transmission line would provide a back-up to its Churchtown-Craryville line, which serves more than 10,000 customers in Columbia County. The line would be connected to a new power substation NYSEG will build in Ghent.

In a community meeting in Chatham last May, NYSEG chief engineer Jeff McKinney said the company did not take routing into consideration, but did its analysis for the project on “what gets us the most bang for the buck.”

Mr. McKinney also said in the May 2011 meeting that lower voltage alternatives would cost the same as the new line, but would carry “significantly less power.”

Meanwhile, Protect Ghent is accusing NYSEG of designing the line’s route to keep the Town of Ghent out of the decision-making process. The group said the utility has created a zigzag route to ensure the new line is longer than 10 miles, which gives jurisdiction to the state Public Service Commission.

“If the line is under 10 miles long, the town is the lead agency,” said Protect Ghent’s Ms. Zan.

Ms. Zan said many Ghent residents, including her, did not find out about the proposed power line until recently. She said there has been an outpouring of support from the community after Protect Ghent was formed in early March. Nearly 50 people attended the group’s first meeting two weeks ago, and she’s heard from many other local residents who could not attend the meeting.

“Every day we get new people added to our mailing list,” she said.

Ms. Zan said Protect Ghent was not formed to force NYSEG to move the proposed power line to another community. Its mission is to advocate for viable alternatives to high voltage power lines–which would help preserve the beauty of Columbia County, save historic areas and keep property values from decreasing.

“Even if it costs a little more money for a low voltage line,” she said. “That has to be balanced with the interests of this community.”

Protect Ghent has already hired Bill Hurst, an Albany attorney with the international law firm Greenberg Traurig for its expected battle with NYSEG.

For more information on Protect Ghent and to see a map of the possible power line go to www.protectghent.com or the group’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/protectghent.

 

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