Residents still fighting power line proposal

MANSFIELD -- Mansfield citizens aren't giving up on their fight to stop Georgia Transmission Corporation from running power lines through a residential section of town.

Following a well-attended public input meeting on Aug. 30, a citizen's steering committee will hold a private meeting with representatives from Georgia Transmission next week in hopes of convincing them to reconsider. The steering committee has christened itself MAPLE, which stands for Mansfield Against Power Line Encroachment.

"We are planning on explaining why their current route is not a viable choice -- historic homes, scenic Highway 1 13 corridor, near Mansfield Elementary, etc. We will also present three alternate routes and why those make better sense -- near fewer homes, no impact to schools, cemeteries, it piggybacks along existing Snapping Shoals Electric Membership Corporation power line right of way. They will take back our proposals and evaluate to determine if it's feasible. Hopefully, there will be a follow up meeting once they do their evaluation of our proposed routes," said Theresa Smallwood, a member of MAPLE.

The group wants to make use of existing easements that have been cleared for power lines to the east of GTC's proposed route.

"I remain cautiously hopeful that (Georgia Transmission) will seriously consider our alternative route on the eastern side of Mansfield as a viable alternative to their current proposed route. The steering committee goal all along has been to keep these poles and lines outside of the city limits while avoiding as many occupied homes as possible. We believe our eastern routes achieve that goal," Smallwood said.

Residents have been up in arms since learning last month of Georgia Transmission's planned route that would run between numerous residences, and require easements from 25 to 125 feet wide. GTC plans to construct 3.2 miles of 115 kilovolt electrical transmission lines in Newton from Alcovy Road to Ga. Highway 11 to serve power needs along Alcovy Road and in Social Circle, Mansfield and Monticello.

GTC spokeswoman Jeannine Haynes said the route includes farmland, roadside property and residential property. She said routes to the east were considered, but would be problematic because they don't follow property lines and would bisect property and run in a zigzag pattern.

However, she said company officials are considering input received at the Aug. 30 public meeting, which drew more than 100 people. She said GTC will consider alternative routes presented by the steering committee.

"It's not unusual for us to make an adjustment," she said, but added that, "It's not as easy as changing a line on a map. We go through a very thorough process to find the preferred corridor; a set of criteria needs to be met. It's not an arbitrary line on the map. It's the result of a lot of research and study. If we do make changes, they will have to meet routine criteria we are required to look at. We cannot unduly affect a new group of property owners."

Haynes said local and state officials representing Newton have urged GTC to consider alternative routes.

The Aug. 30 meeting drew several elected officials, including State Rep. Doug Holt, R-Social Circle, State Sen. Rick Jeffares, R-Locust Grove, Board of Commissioners Chairman Kathy Morgan, Board of Education member Jeff Meadors, Mansfield Mayor Bill Cocchi and Newborn Mayor Roger Sheridan, who all came out to support the citizens.

Holt said he and Jeffares have formally requested that Georgia Transmission find a route outside the city limits.

"We reserve the right to legislate. We are watching this process for a while but ultimately the power of eminent domain they would be using in some instances is perhaps something the General Assembly has delegated to operations like transmission cooperations, EMCs and other power entities. We're very cautious about that. You can't legislate on an individual entity but Georgia Transmission is a fairly unique entity, in a class almost by itself. The job it does is fairly unique because it works for the EMCs," Holt said.

"This is a struggle between progress, providing the infrastructure that we need, and what the citizens want," Morgan said. "I think there's some way to reach that objective with the least amount of disruption to the community. I hope they do what benefits most of the community. I will support whatever the community wants."

Ideally, all public input will be evaluated by Oct. 15, Haynes said. The plan is to begin property acquisition this fall with construction to begin in the summer and service available by December 2012.

"We're taking these concerns seriously, and we'll take the time to go through them," she said.

Georgia Transmission builds and maintains high-voltage electric transmission lines for Georgia's customer-owned electric membership cooperatives and works with the state's other electric utilities to plan and operate a power grid to meet Georgia's energy demand.

Staff Correspondent Aimee A. Jones contributed to this story.