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January 8, 2014

New Marcy power line sparks local concerns

By Joe Mahoney Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — A proposed 78-mile high-voltage transmission line that would run through Otsego and Delaware Counties is generating concern from some local officials.

The route proposed by a company called North America Transmission would take the overhead line parallel to the existing Marcy South line, beginning at the Edic substation near Utica and terminating at the existing Fraser substation in the Delaware County hamlet of Fraser.

Among towns that could be traversed by the 345-kilovolt line are Richfield, Exeter, Burlington, New Lisbon, Hartwick, Laurens, Oneonta, Otego, Franklin and Delhi.

Otsego County Rep. Ed Lentz, D-New Lisbon, said the project, if approved, could have consequences for landowners along the route as well as environmental impacts.

Specifically, Lentz said, there are concerns that the presence of an additional power line could impact property values and cause habitat fragmentation.

“I’m not saying the power line would be a bad thing,” Lentz said. “But I don’t think people should be displaced from their homes without fair compensation. People need to be adequately compensated,” if the power line is placed on their property, he said.

Lentz said the new project would extend the width of the existing Marcy corridor by about 150 feet. He said the project planners don’t want to use the towers for the existing lines because if one of them were to topple it would negate the benefit of having the additional power.

Lentz said he will recommend that Otsego County become an official intervenor to the PSC proceedings concerning the project so that the county’s voice will be heard as regulators evaluate the proposal. The state requires developers of transmission lines to set aside funds for those seeking to be intervenors in order to defray the cost of dealing with a project that will have an impact on local communities.

Douglas Zamelis, a Springfield environmental lawyer, said the power line could create headaches for landowners who don’t want to grant an easement for it.

“The position of a potential condemnee (a landowner facing eminent domain proceedings) is a most uncomfortable one,” he said. “This is a very significant project that has not attracted as much attention locally as it has in the Hudson Valley,” where a competing project has stirred up considerable opposition.

According to estimates released by a consultant for the project, the power line would generate a total of $1.6 million per year in annual revenues for the 16 towns along the route. New Lisbon would reap the most of those towns, taking in $426,823 per year, according to the report.

In addition, Otsego County would take in nearly $500,000 per year in property taxes, while Delaware County would receive nearly $250,000 annually, according to the consultant’s study.

Over a span of 20 years, it was estimated the project would generate nearly $100 million in revenue for school districts, the county governments and the towns.

Building the transmission system would cost between $250 million and $290 million, including about $15 million for the acquisition of real estate, according to North American Transmission.

The project is linked to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s “energy highway” initiative aimed at sending more power to New York City from reliable sources.

Delaware County Board of Supervisors Chairman James Eisel Sr. said Cuomo wants to close the Indian Point nuclear reactor station north of New York City and is looking to find a new source of power when that plant is turned off. Indian Point’s license to operate expires in 2015.

Eisel said he has not yet formulated a position on the proposed new Marcy route that would end up in Fraser. He said he would like to see Cuomo push for more natural gas-powered generating stations closer to New York City to fill the electricity demand for the metropolitan region.

In his State of the State speech in Albany today, Cuomo is expected to propose streamlining the process for approving transmission line projects in New York City’s power demand, according to Bloomberg News.

Cuomo’s plan calls for the Public Service Commission to revise its rules in a way that would expedite power lines that use existing rights of way, Bloomberg News reported.

The company promoting the Edic to Fraser route said the power line could become operational by late 2017. Construction would begin in May 2016.

The original Marcy project generated considerable controversy and litigation in the 1980s. Landowners challenged it in some of the eight counties it ran through on the grounds that the power lines marred the landscape and could produce electromagnetic fields dangerous to health.