Twenty years or more from now, either myself or a successor will likely recall the outcome in the battle over the proposed New York Regional Interconnect power-line project, designed to deliver cheaper electricity to metropolitan New York City.

It was 20 years ago, however, June 1, 1988, that electricity started surging through the Marcy South power line. The project had a lion's share of controversy, which got its start in 1982.

In May of that year, the Power Authority of the State of New York, today's New York Power Authority, announced plans to build a 345-kilovolt line through our region, also to deliver power to New York City. PASNY claimed it would save consumers about $165 million a year by bringing affordable hydroelectric power south from Canada.

Once word got out to residents about the unsightly 200-mile line, the opposition quickly grew. Prudent Residents Opposed To Electric Cable Transmission (PROTECT) formed in Otsego County by July. Similar groups formed in the seven counties through which the line was due to pass.

Members of PROTECT and others opposed to the line attended public hearings on the project. One in Cooperstown in August drew 800 people. Others, mostly farmers whose land was along the line's projected path, showed opposition by forbidding PASNY surveyors from entering their property.

The protests were somewhat successful. One of PROTECT's goals was to steer the line away from picturesque Otsego Lake and Cooperstown. The Public Service Commission voted in early 1985 to change the course of the line through Otsego County, west into sparsely populated farming towns such as Richfield, Exeter and Laurens.

That's when an already contentious situation got even more heated. Farmers in those three towns began increasing their confrontations with PASNY surveyors, ordering them off their land when they were unable to produce papers indicating they were allowed to be there.

PASNY Chairman John Dyson hadn't exactly started a good public relations campaign for the project, when back in August 1982 he told The New York Times that the rural opponents of Marcy South were "a bunch of screwball farmers."

The Public Service Commission approved the project on Nov. 20, 1984. At a public hearing on Feb. 13, 1985, PASNY told landowners that it was time to stop battling and negotiate the best possible land deals.

By April 1986, tree clearing began in Delaware County, where the project had spurred far fewer protests than in neighboring Otsego County, but that soon changed. Acts of vandalism were frequent, including damage to a roller, log skidder and bulldozer used to clear trees in the town of Franklin.

Litigation was also common throughout the construction years, both to try to halt or keep the project moving forward.

A Richfield family was ordered to stay at least 500-feet from construction workers and to stop their intimidating target practices in the vicinity.

A legal challenge brought by PROTECT was thrown out of the state Court of Appeals. "This ends Marcy South litigation against us," a PASNY lawyer said.

The many communities affected by the route of the power line were able to seek some compensation. PASNY dispensed $12 million beginning in 1986 for a variety of community projects such as new firehouses, county fair improvements and school renovations.

Ten years after electric began to flow on Marcy South, town of Richfield farmer Sheldon Hansel reflected on the project. Hansel lost an estimated 35 of his 475 acres of land and was never able to work out a compensation deal with PASNY.

The abuse of eminent domain in this country is really bad," Hansel told The Daily Star. "It's like the Gestapo coming in, the way they do it. It's just a stinky deal."

This weekend: South Bainbridge had had enough.

City Historian Mark Simonson's column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or e-mail him at simmark@stny.rr.com. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com.

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