Power line battle wages on

MANSFIELD - Georgia Transmission Corporation is wrapping up efforts to survey each of the 35 properties in Mansfield that could be impacted by a power line project. Meanwhile, a citizens' opposition group is consulting with an attorney on legal recourse and is seeking intervention from state officials.

GTC Spokeswoman Jeannine Haynes said all but five of 35 affected property owners have allowed crews on their land to survey. Haynes said GTC is slowing activity until January unless a property owner is interested in doing business over the holidays.

"In those cases, we are surveying, getting appraisals or negotiating the easements. We sent letters to the property owners who have not yet given us permission to survey. The letter explains that we will ask a Superior Court judge to grant us the right to conduct a survey if we can't reach an agreement with them. This won't happen until after the first of the year," she said.

Todd Hilton, a member of Mansfield Against Power Line Encroachment, known as MAPLE, said the letter sent to residents gave a 10-day deadline to respond, which would be prior to Christmas. He said if that has been extended to after the new year, residents have not been notified.

Hilton said MAPLE is consulting with a lawyer about legal options and that State Rep. Doug Holt, R-Social Circle, has indicated he plans to file legislation that would attempt to regulate GTC.

When contacted by the Citizen Thursday, Holt said, "I do intend to file something but it's still too preliminary to discuss the particulars."

How many easements will be required for the project is not yet known, Haynes said.

"We may need easements from all 35 but won't know for sure until we finish the surveys and make adjustments for individuals. With a few exceptions we will not start negotiating these until after the first of the year. We will work to reach an agreement with all of the property owners. Typically we reach an agreement with 95 to 97 percent. If necessary we will file condemnation where a jury then decides value. We make every effort to reach an agreement out of court and take this action only as a last resort," she said.

MAPLE issued a statement saying it will exhaust all legal avenues.

"The citizens of Mansfield are desirous of attaining resolution of this issue in a manner that will lessen the impact of the project on the community. We feel that MAPLE has supplied GTC with a viable alternative to their proposed route, and have been willing to continue dialogue. However, the lines of communications have been strained, and we have felt at times as if our concerns were falling on deaf ears, and that negotiating in good faith was not in GTC's plan," the statement said.

MAPLE insists that GTC has omitted streams and historic sites that would be impacted, including century-old African-American worship site Bethel Grove Baptist Church.

"In light of the identified errors, most notably the omission of streams along GTC's chosen route, and the project's severe impact on this historic community, we propose a re-evaluation of the routes using the corrected information," MAPLE said. "As we are aware that the rationale for the GTC project is contingent upon valid environmental studies, we are confident that GTC will want to amend their proposal and correct the erroneous data. Moving forward on the present course without significant alteration will only solidify our assertion that GTC is unwilling to consider criteria other than project cost. The citizens of Mansfield deserve better."

GTC rejected MAPLE's proposed alternative routes, stating they would impact more private property and require clearing of more trees.

The project involves erecting large concrete poles and running power lines through the back streets of the town 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 residents of 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 press release issued by GTC states that the alternative routes proposed by MAPLE would require up to 25 additional acres of easements on private property and clearing of as much as 9 additional acres of forest, while running up to 1.4 miles longer and costing approximately $1 million more than the original route.

GTC said the line is needed to provide more reliable power in Newton and Jasper counties. But MAPLE said Mansfield is the area that will be most impacted, with no benefit. The routes proposed by MAPLE are existing easements already occupied by power distribution lines, according to the group's press release. MAPLE stated the property owner most directly impacted by the steering committee's proposal was willing to allow power lines to be constructed on her property. Also, MAPLE said its suggested route will impact 11 residences versus the 27 impacted by GTC's route. The new transmission line is scheduled to be in service by summer 2013.