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Social Circle residents prepared to fight Georgia Power project

SOCIAL CIRCLE — Dozens of interested citizens turned out for a public meeting Wednesday to find out how a proposed route for a high voltage power line might — or might not — affect their properties.

About 20 representatives from Georgia Power were on hand to answer questions and explain how the proposed route for a power line to serve the Stanton Springs substation was selected. Stanton Springs is home to Baxter International, a $1 billion bio-pharmaceutical manufacturing project now under construction.

The answers property owners received didn’t provide any reassurance.

Joyce Ashworth, who lives on Willow Springs Church Road, where many of the affected property owners live, heard the explanations but left the meeting disheartened. Ashworth fears that, as it’s planned now, the power line easement will claim a large portion of her front yard and the trees growing there.

“I intended to live the rest of my days there and have something of value to leave my children,” she said. “And they’re taking that away from me.”

Jim Brooks, another resident of Willow Springs Church Road, said the meeting Wednesday was “about what I expected. A front trying to make you feel good. That’s all it was, trying to persuade people it’s going to be a good thing, beneficial and not that big of an impact. And I don’t believe that.”

Brooks said he and about 30 other residents held a meeting with an attorney Tuesday night and are prepared to take a stand.

Georgia Power has notified residents that the right of eminent domain may be exercised in order to construct and expand the transmission line.

“It’s in Georgia Power’s court right now,” Brooks said. “Our group has decided we are going to turn down all offers and see how it goes. We are willing to go as far as it takes. If it takes six months or a year, it won’t matter to us.”

Brooks said he’s not opposed to economic development in the area.

“I’m not against growth and not against Baxter,” he said. “I just think Georgia Power could find a more suitable route than what they have chosen as far as the number of people it’s going to affect.”

About nine property owners along Willow Springs Church Road asked why the power line can’t be routed onto undeveloped property across from their homes that is owned by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

Holly Caraway, a land acquisition manager with Georgia Power, explained that the DNR property is under a heritage preservation easement that prohibits placement of the line there.

A power line already runs alongside the DNR property, and Caraway said the new line could be placed in that existing right of way “if the DNR allows it.” That has yet to be determined, she said.

According to Georgia Power, the power line will follow a route from the new substation under construction at Stanton Springs, where Baxter International is under development, northerly along U.S. Highway 278, Willow Springs Church Road, East Hightower Trail Road and Knox Chapel Road to the existing East Social Circle substation off Hawkins Academy Road. The total length of the line is about 6.5 miles.

The transmission line will consist of guyed and self-supporting steel, concrete and/or hybrid poles. Georgia Power will use its existing transmission line right of way for a portion of the route and will need to acquire new easements in widths of 35 feet for portions of the line along or adjacent to public roads, 52.5 feet when parallel to other transmission corridors and up to 100 feet for cross-country portions of the line.

Jim Talbot said he is in the process of building his retirement home on Willow Springs Church Road. He plans to move in this month. Maps at the meeting Wednesday showed a possible power pole placement near the corner of his property line nearest the roadway. The accompanying easement would take up a large portion of his yard, he said.

“No one’s contacted me at all,” he said. “Apparently they don’t know I’m the new owner.”

Talbot said there are other routes that could be explored, particularly the Ga. Highway 11 Bypass around Social Circle that has already been cleared. More closely following U.S. 278 is another option, he said.

Caraway said Georgia Power is still in the process of finalizing the route, although the basic route will stay the same. Now that the survey work has been done, she said, Georgia Power will evaluate the results to see if minor changes are needed. Appraisals of affected properties will be completed sometime in January or February, she said.

In general, Caraway said Georgia Power attempts to use existing distribution line rights of way and disrupt as few properties as possible.

“We have no interest in buying a house and forcing someone to move,” she said.

Routes that require easements from a large number of properties are more expensive and take longer to build, she said.

Stanton Springs is a master-planned, multi-use commercial real estate development. The four-county park was developed by the Joint Development Authority of Jasper, Morgan, Newton and Walton counties and is located at the intersection of U.S. Highway 278 and Interstate 20.

Baxter International will manufacture plasma-based therapies that treat chronic and life-threatening illnesses. The operation will also include warehouse and distribution facilities.