Residents want live wires buried

Power line plan for county generates opposition
LIVINGSTON–At first glance, Governor Cuomo’s solution to New York’s energy problems seems like a no-brainer: transmit excess power capacity from upstate wind farms and power plants to downstate regions that need more electricity. Generating more power creates jobs upstate and gets electricity to New Yorkers who need it to power their homes and businesses.

But some residents of counties along the route of the power lines, who don’t expect to see the direct benefits, are angry. That was true of many in the crowd of more than 200 last Friday night at the Livingston Town Garage, where people geared up to fight a proposed expansion of high-voltage power lines in the county.

Columbia County is slated to be part of a 153-mile long power line expansion running from Oneida to Dutchess County. The proposal would add additional, taller transmission towers and would expand existing right-of-ways up to 125 feet.

“Our message tonight is that we are highly organized, we are highly motivated and we are highly adamant that this community will not bear another burden from these power lines,” said Pamela Kline, who founded the group Farmers and Families for Livingston, which organized the meeting. She said at least 129 county landowners would be directly affected by the proposed project.

The gathering was billed as an informational meeting regarding the 345-kilovolt (kV) that would nearly triple the power transmitted, as well as a chance to share proposed routes and other details with residents.

But the meeting heated up quickly, when several people described how the lines would affect their property. Will Yandik is a Town Council member in Livingston and a fourth generation farmer. His family has owned its Livingston farm for nearly 100 years. “This issue has enormous resonance with my family,” Mr. Yandik said, “because this is not the first time that we’ve been asked to surrender part of our land to a utility company. The first utility line ran though in the 1930s and took what at the time was some of our best pasture and orchards.”

Mr. Yandik said the proposed 125-foot easement along existing power lines, “would be asking my family to submit another 15 acres of our land for the good of the grid.”

Greg Quinn from Concerned Citizens of Clinton in Dutchess County said he and his wife have double 100-foot transmission towers going through their farm. He said the proposal would add an additional, taller towers (up to 165 feet) next to the existing ones, which are 68-years-old. Referring to language used by the utility companies in their proposals, he asked, “How can a forward thinking state like New York embrace such an outdated–and ugly–technology?”

Another resident was concerned about the electromagnetic field from the higher-voltage lines. He held up a 4-foot long fluorescent light.  “If I put this… underneath the power line on my property, it will light up,” he said. “What will happen when the power is three times stronger? My kids might say: I don’t want the grandkids coming to your house any more. It’s too dangerous.”

The proposed line is part of Governor Cuomo’s New York Energy Highway plan announced at his State of the State address in January. The plan was in part a response to flaws in the state’s electrical grid exposed by last year’s super storm Sandy, which left some Long Island residents without power for weeks.

Despite their protests about the power lines, most speakers said they understood the need to get more power downstate. They said they just don’t want more high-voltage overhead transmission lines. Why not bury the lines underground, they asked?

“There is a solution here that would end this conference in 10 minutes,” Mr. Yandik said. “If we could rally the political will to place the lines underground, you can put them right through my farm.”

He challenged the governor to produce independent estimates of the cost to bury the lines.

Mr. Quinn said underground power lines are common in Europe and are being built in Southern California. “Fast and cheap is not what New York needs right now,” Mr. Quinn said. “Let’s be an example to the rest of the country.”

Toward the end of the meeting Jim Denn, a spokesman for the state Public Service Commission, which would need to approve the final power lines, took the podium. “While it’s true the governor asked to put the energy plan on a fast track,” Mr. Denn said, “we have no intention of cutting any corners. We want to allow for a full flow of information.”

All requests to construct and operate a major electric transmission facility in New York State go through a special public review, often called the “Article VII process,” after the section of public service law that requires the review. The PSC makes the final decision on all applications after the review.

Mr. Denn said the next step is for more public meetings on the proposal. “Our job is to help the public understand the process and ensure they know where to go with their comments,” he said. “No decisions have been made. If a project is chosen, it is the most efficient and has the least impact on the environment,” he said.

Earlier in the meeting Koethi Zan of Protect Ghent spoke about strategies for protesting high voltage power lines. For more than two years Ms. Zan’s group has been fighting a proposed 11.1 mile 115kV power line that would zigzag though working farms and historical neighborhoods in Ghent as well as Omi International Arts Center.

“Our project is a mini test run for what’s going on with these lines,” she said.
Ms. Zan said having good maps of the proposed routes is crucial. “You have to have Google maps so everyone can see what’s affected.”
“Just because the lines are drawn where they are, that doesn’t mean that’s where the power lines are going, even if they do get built,” she said.

“This is everybody’s problem. This is not just the problem of the people who are potentially affected landowners at the time. It could be any of us.”
Ms. Zan said that in addition to hiring lawyers, the groups challenging the power lines should hire environmental consultants, landscape architects, photographers and historical preservation experts. These experts can help evaluate the properties, do visual impact studies and identify land eligible for historical preservation.

She also suggested that residents start writing letters to the Public Service Commission immediately. “The community can make a difference,” Ms. Zan said.

State Assembly Member Didi Barrett (D-106th) attended the meeting accompanied by her dog. Ms. Barrett said underground lines should be examined as an alternative and questioned the naysayers who say underground power is too expensive.

“Too expensive for whom?” Ms. Barrett asked. “If you put power lines through viewsheds and farmland, and send families packing because they don’t feel safe, that’s an enormous expense.”

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