Power line route roils Ghent

NYSEG files plan that cuts through town

GHENT–Anyone driving along County Route 22 here can’t help but notice the bright yellow signs posted in front of two dozen properties along the road.

“Stop the Power Lines!” they shout out to passersby.

The placards are the most visible evidence of a grassroots movement aiming to prevent an 11-mile high-voltage overhead power line from disrupting the environment and landscape of the community. Protect Ghent is a group of more than a hundred local residents and business owners who are taking on New York State Electric & Gas, a subsidiary of multi-billion dollar Spanish company Iberdrola. NYSEG supplies much of the power in northern and eastern Columbia County.

Despite the David vs. Goliath scenario, the group believes they have a chance to win the battle. Protect Ghent Executive Director Koethi Zan said more than 150 people showed up for the organization’s second meeting, which filled the Art Omi Visitors Center on a rainy Monday night in late May.

“It was encouraging,” said Ms. Zan. “The energy in the room was very powerful.”

NYSEG filed an Article VII application with the state Public Service Commission May 25, the Friday afternoon before Memorial Day weekend. With the formal filing in place, community members finally know the details of the proposed route, which is similar to information NYSEG presented to the Ghent Town Board last fall.

The proposed 115 kilovolt (kV) line begins at NYSEG’s existing Klinekill station on Route 203 in Chatham, connects with an existing National Grid 115kV-power line running generally south, and then weaves westward through Ghent, crossing Snyder Road, Habeck Road, Spook Rock Road, County Route 22, Letter S Road, Leggett Road and Old Post Road, finally connecting to a new proposed substation just west of Route 9H, near Falls Industrial Park Road.

The overhead line would pass nearby or through dozens of residential properties, several working farms and a nursery, as well as land owned by the Columbia County Land Conservancy. The line would also pass though property belonging to Omi International Arts Center, near artists residences there, and well within sight of Art Omi’s public exhibition space, The Fields Sculpture Park.

Ghent homeowner Greg Cice says the proposed transmission line is mapped to go directly though the middle of his family’s 19 acres, splitting his property in half. He says it appears the line will run directly over the house that he and his wife designed and built themselves, as well as the play gym he built for his four-year-old twins. “The lines will basically condemn our property,” said Mr. Cice. “It was devastating when we heard the news, especially given our emotional attachment the to the place.”

Mr. Cice, who has owned his Ghent property for over a decade, says he understands the need for reliable power, but is upset with the way NYSEG is going about the process. “We were never consulted,” he said. “There are ways these power problems can be solved or mitigated with the community, but NYSEG is not talking.”

Over the past year, NYSEG met with several town boards in Columbia County and held another public meeting in Chatham to discuss the company’s plans. They said the new transmission line will provide a critical back-up to the company’s Churchtown-Craryville line.

At the Chatham meeting, a NYSEG project manager said the company was trying to be proactive, by discussing the plans upfront and considering alternatives.

But at that same meeting, the NYSEG engineer in charge of the project, Jeff McKinney, said keeping the project cost low was the most important consideration and, “The line can go through Grandma’s house, I don’t care.”

NYSEG spokesman Clayton Ellis said in an email this week that NYSEG has met with Town of Ghent officials and engineers. “We have studied a 34.5-kV option the engineers for the town proposed as an alternative to our proposal,” wrote Mr. Ellis. “After careful study, we determined that the need to reinforce the transmission system could not be adequately addressed using existing lines. The Columbia County Transmission Project, as proposed, is the best option to provide safe, reliable service to nearly 10,000 NYSEG customers in the area.

“There will be additional opportunities for the town and other interested parties to get involved in the Article VII review process,” Mr. Ellis wrote.

Four decades ago the state set up a process that allows any group or member of the public to have a say in the decision of where electrical lines are placed in their community.

A power company must file a formal Article VII application with the Public Service Commission–a board of five people appointed by the governor. The PSC’s major mission is to ensure that all New Yorkers have access to reliable and low-cost utility services. In addition, the agency has jurisdiction over electric transmission facilities, among other things.

PSC spokesperson Anne Dalton, said the Article VII process is “very transparent,” with all documents and related correspondence posted with the case number and available for inspection any time.

“We have a staff of experts –environmentalists, economists, lawyers and engineers — who will be reviewing the application,” Ms. Dalton said. “They always do a thorough and comprehensive review.”

She said the commission can accept, reject or modify any proposal, after hearing recommendations from these experts. Ms. Dalton added that this case is just at the beginning stages and it will be several weeks, at least, before an administrative judge is appointed to shepherd the process.

Ms. Dalton said there are several ways for people or organizations to make comments, which will be added to the PSC case review. Interested parties can send a letter or email to the PSC Secretary or leave comments on a toll free opinion line at 800 335-2120. Anyone commenting should make sure to state the case name: Columbia County Transmission Project.

Links to NYSEG’s Article VII application, as well as a map of the proposed transmission line are on the Protect Ghent website at http://protectghent.com.

Paper copies of the complete application are available at Ghent Town Hall, The Rudolf Steiner Library in Ghent, Chatham Public Library and the Hudson Area Library.

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