PSC gets earful from town as residents demand alternatives
W. GHENT–Opponents of a planned power line through the heart of Ghent packed the West Ghent firehouse last week to voice their concerns to Eleanor Stein, administrative law judge, regarding the New York State Electric and Gas Corporation’s proposal. The unified message from the audience: force NYSEG to consider alternatives.
The company has an application before the Public Service Commission to build a new 11.1 mile, 115 kilovolt transmission line to connect an existing NYSEG line to a parallel National Grid line. Last Friday, June 14, the PSC held a public information session followed by the public statement hearing, which is part of the state review process. In addition to officials from the state Department of Public Service, Jim Salmon, regional manager of outreach and development for NYSEG, was there to explain why the company says it needs the line.
The administrative law judge would eventually make a recommended decision on the project which will be sent to the PSC for a final decision.
Mr. Salmon said NYSEG constantly looks for ways to improve its system, and the new line would provide backup to a 115 kV line running between Churchtown and Craryville.
“What we’ve identified is that during certain times of the year, during certain peak loads, if we were to lose this line between Craryville and Churchtown, our system would not be able to support the voltages in Columbia County,” said Mr. Salmon. He said this would result in blackouts for approximately 10,000 customers.
The proposed line would run about 2.5 miles from National Grid’s line to a new switching station in West Ghent. From there, it would run another 8.6 miles and connect with the existing Klinekill substation in the Town of Chatham. Out of four proposed routes, Mr. Salmon said this one would make the most use of existing rights-of-way have the least impact on wetlands.
During the public statement period, Ghent Town attorney Ted Guterman, speaking for the town, asked the PSC to deny NYSEG’s application. Mr. Guterman said NYSEG’s intent from the beginning has been to seek approval to build a new power line, not to find alternative solutions. Two years ago, engineers retained by the town found an alternative to building a new power line. This plan would have involved upgrading existing low-voltage power lines, which the town’s engineers estimated could be done at a cost similar to NYSEG’s proposal to build a new line. Mr. Guterman said that though NYSEG engineers initially agreed, they later said the low-voltage alternative would cost $3 million more than the new power line and would have more impact on the environment.
“However, at no time has NYSEG ever explained what these environmental reasons are, nor provided any specific information as to why an upgrade would cost more than a new line,” said Mr. Guterman. “Why is NYSEG doing this? The main reason is money. They get more money for constructing this 115 kV transmission line than they would for an upgrade of the existing system.”
Under the state Public Service Law a 115-kV line proposal would only be subject to town approval if it is less than 10 miles long. Since NYSEG’s proposed line is 11.1 miles, the application must be reviewed by the PSC, bypassing Ghent’s jurisdiction.
“The proposed serpentine route for this power line leads one to believe it was done purposely to get above the 10 mile mark,” said Ghent resident Dan Bosik. “That results in the PSC getting involved, instead of our town government making the final decision.”
Walter Blank, a maple farmer, says the proposed line would run diagonally through his land. Since the right-of-way will require 100 feet of clearance, he says this will clear out trees and put him out of business. He says the line also crosses a trout stream, and clearing the trees could cause it to dry up.
Peter Paden, executive director of the Columbia Land Conservancy, said the line would “have various significant adverse environmental impacts, many of which will be difficult, if not impossible, to mitigate.”
Donald Lumpkin says studies show that power lines diminish property value, and that the resulting reassessments will cause a reduction in the county’s tax case. Real estate broker Sarah Sterling says the line would make nearby properties “unsellable.”
“There’s simply no one that wants to come to this county to buy a beautiful property with a beautiful view of a power line,” she said. ”It’s just not feasible.”
Others, such as Benjamin Swett and Mallory Mort, suggested NYSEG look into underground lines.
“There’s a reason people want to live here. It’s a real treasure,” said Mr. Mort. “If there is a need for this electrical service, then I suggest you send NYSEG back to the drawing board and find alternative plans that more properly serve the needs of this historical, agricultural, and scenic nature of this area.”
Koethi Zan, executive director of the not-for-profit organization Protect Ghent, emphasized alternative solutions and said NYSEG’s proposed project would negatively impact a variety of Ghent’s features including economy, agriculture, viewshed, environment and its historical value. Also, she said, the power line would loom over the swimming pool at Art Omi.
Francis Greenburger, chairman of the Board of Trustees of Omi International Art Center, said Art Omi is a world-renown artist-residency program, and called the power line proposal a “travesty.”
“We serve local constituency as well as the international art community,” said Mr. Greenburger. “These lines will go right down the center of our sculpture park.”
Ghent resident Judith Rusk said she already lives next to a NYSEG right-of-way, but the proposed route would widen it from 50 feet to 100 feet. She is concerned about the chemicals sprayed by the company on the property.
Brit Cece said she and her husband, Greg, had begun planning to build a new home in Ghent, but the proposed power line route cuts their property in half.
“We ask the project be suspended in this current state and that NYSEG work earnestly in good faith with the town to consider viable alternatives and solutions,” she said. “There is too much at stake for our family and so many others at Ghent to simply proceed with business as usual.”