MANSFIELD -- Mansfield is not much larger than 1 square mile with fewer than 600 residents and is surrounded by rural land, which leaves many questioning why an electric company wants to run a strip of power lines through the area of town where most people live.
"There are alternate routes I know that won't impact population centers," resident Todd Hilton told representatives with Georgia Transmission Corporation during a town hall meeting held Monday in the Mansfield Community Center. "Please don't just look at the bottom line. There is more at stake for us than supplying power to Monticello and Social Circle."
A large number of residents attended Monday's meeting to learn more about GTC's plans to construct 3.2 miles of 115 kilovolt electrical transmission lines in Newton County from Alcovy Road to Ga. Highway 11.
Georgia Transmission Corporation is an electric membership corporation that transmits electricity to its 39-member distribution cooperatives. Company representatives explained Monday that the transmission lines would serve the power needs along Alcovy Road, in Social Circle, Mansfield and Monticello.
The plans involve erecting large concrete poles and running power lines through the back streets of Mansfield to a proposed substation at Mill Pond Road and Ga. Highway 11. The lines will not go through the center of town, but the poles will run between houses. According to GTC, the transmission lines will require easements from 25 to 125 feet wide, including the right to cut and remove dead or diseased trees within 10 to 30 feet of the right of way.
A formal open house is scheduled for 2 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 30, at Newborn Methodist Church. Company representatives said more information and detailed maps will be available at that point.
Mansfield resident and a member of the group organized to oppose the construction of the lines Tom McCurley said, "Most of us would like to find an alternative route outside our home. Most of us are really, really concerned about what these lines will do in their current form or future form."
Carol Jones is also a member of the five-member steering committee that has organized in opposition to the project. She advised representatives from GTC that Newton County's land use plan seeks to preserve the Ga. Highway 11 corridor.
"Within that, the county wishes to discourage extension of public utilities in that corridor," Jones said.
Mike Davis, project manager with GTC, said the current 46kV system along this corridor can no longer support the demand and the transformers are already overloaded.
Christy Johnson, the group leader of environmental and regulatory compliance, explained that once the company determines a need, engineers use a sophisticated GIS and mapping system to establish a number of corridors and routes where transmission lines could go. Based on a number of criteria, including cost and environmental and residential impacts, the most viable options are established.
Property values to take a hit?
Many residents said the placement of the power lines would adversely affect their property values and still leave them responsible for the property taxes.
Leigh Tuttle, who lives on Ga. 11, said a power pole would be placed in front of her home, which she believes will cause the value of her home to plummet. She said when she is ready to place her home on the market, prospective buyers will likely select a home in the same price range that does not have a power pole in the front yard.
"My home will be virtually valueless," Tuttle said.
Theresa Smallwood, another member of the steering committee, expressed the frustration of many in the room when she challenged the representatives from the company to consider the property owners who will still be here after GTC builds the lines and leaves.
"What about us who get poles to look at with depreciating property values? This is all on our backs and there's not even a benefit for Mansfield. All the power is going to the south of us," she said.
During one heated moment, Mansfield resident Adam West told company representatives their plans are "unconscionable. This is a breach of the social contract. It's not illegal, but it's a breach of the social contract."
Davis countered that the new lines will benefit the entire area.
"The system can't support the demand and we need to upgrade the system before it fails, not after it fails," he said.
Health risks too great
Health concerns from increased electromagnetic activity around the lines were also on the minds of many in the crowd.
Hilton, who serves as pastor of Mansfield First United Methodist Church and is a member of the steering committee, said he has read a number of studies that indicate power lines can be dangerous to certain people. He said his 10-year-old son is epileptic and he cannot risk any impact on his son's health from the electromagnetic field.
Jeannine Haynes, senior public relations representative with GTC, said the company complies with state regulations regarding electromagnetic fields. Furthermore, she said no objective studies have shown any impact from the electromagnetic field around transmission power poles. In fact, Haynes said, there is probably more electromagnetic activity from the everyday utilities in one's home or a school classroom than would be noticeable from power lines.
Hilton and others were not satisfied with this answer, and many said they did not trust GTC's intentions. He said industries have been known to skew scientific studies for their own benefit. Hilton said power companies have some of the most powerful lobbying groups in the state. He said any industry guidelines are simply written by members of that industry and, therefore, are not reliable.
Smallwood said many feel like the company has tried to sneak its plans past those who will be the most impacted by not contacting every landowner who will be impacted and scheduling an open house in another town.
GTC representatives agreed to allow residents an additional two weeks after the Aug. 30 meeting to raise their comments and concerns about the project.
Haynes said the plan is to begin property acquisition this fall with construction to begin in the summer and service available by December 2012.