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NYSEG project riles Truxton landowners

Power lines fought

Photos by Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Ed and Pam Mertens look out over nearby power lines Wednesday while sitting at a picnic table in their back yard in Truxton. NYSEG’s proposal for a 68.5-mile, 345-kilovolt line would mean the Mertens would either lose the barn on their property at 7036 Truxton Tully Road or have to sell the house.

TRUXTON — Ed Mertens of Truxton loves his house and his 18 1/2 acres around it. It is the ideal rural environment for him and his family.

Now, he spends his nights worrying he might lose it.

A new proposed power line by NYSEG would run through his property. Depending on how intrusive the line is, he may either lose his barn or have to sell his house.

And even if he just loses the barn, he questions whether he should still sell the house he has lived in for five years, concerned about its future resale value.

“This is horrible,” Mertens said. “It is all I can think about.”

New York State Electric & Gas Corp. proposes a 68.5-mile, 345-kilovolt power line from National Grid’s LaFayette substation in Onondaga County, through Cortland County, to NYSEG’s Oakdale substation in Broome County. NYSEG said the project would create a more reliable energy grid.

The consensus of an alliance of landowners in Cortland, Broome and Onondaga counties is to stop the proposed project, said Truxton resident Kathie Arnold, co-chairwoman of the Broome/Cortland/Onondaga Forest, Farm, and Home Preservation Alliance.

She already has three power lines on her land and does not want a fourth.

Landowners in the alliance have questions and concerns about the environmental and social effect of the project, she said. Also, easements being presented to landowners provide little benefit to the landowner.

“We’re not sold this is needed,” Arnold said.

The alliance is looking to hire an attorney and various experts to further review the project.

“NYSEG is investing in electric system upgrades to comply with new federal standards,” writes Juanita Washington, corporate communications manager for Avangrid — NYSEG’s parent. “These Federal Energy Regulatory Commission requirements will result in a more reliable and resilient energy grid.”

Where possible, NYSEG will work in or beside existing transmission rights-of-way to minimize impacts of the new transmission line, Washington said.

A roadside protest sign is shown outside the Ed and Pam Mertens’ residence Wednesday on Truxton Tully Road in Truxton.

NYSEG needs a Certificate of Environmental Compatibility and Public Need from the state Public Service Commission. It plans to apply for the certificate between July and September. It must provide information such as the line’s path, the need for it, the merits and detriments of each proposed route and more. There also must be open house informational sessions.

Those meetings will be scheduled along the proposed route, Washington said.

“The company is working closely with its neighbors and welcomes their input to ensure that improvements are performed safely and with minimal disruption to the environment and the communities we serve,” Washington said. “We recognize that a successful outcome is one that benefits both parties.”

NYSEG also must set up an intervenor fund, between $50,000 and $100,000, that municipalities or other organizations can use to pay for legal fees, consultants and other expenses. The alliance will apply for some of the funding to hire attorneys and experts, Arnold said.

Landowners now are concerned about the easement being presented to them. The proposal states that while NYSEG owns the land — including the vegetation, although crops could be excluded — but all liability would still be on the landowner. Even during the construction of the power line, Arnold said. The company could store equipment and any materials on the land. NYSEG can also sell the land to one or multiple entities, Arnold said, without further compensation to the landowner.

NYSEG could seize the land under eminent domain, too, Arnold said. If it did that it could only place one overhead power line on the property, though. Under the easement, NYSEG would have the right to build above ground and underground communications and power lines, she said.

“My attorney said I would be foolish to sign the (easement) document,” said Lapeer resident Rich Edsall, co-chairman of the alliance.

He said NYSEG allows landowners to have an attorney look over the easement, but many landowners are on limited means and can’t afford to. It cost him $400 just to have his attorney review it.

Some landowners have already signed the easement, he said, and now regret doing so. Landowners are being offered about $5,500 to $7,000 per acre, Arnold said –– the higher price for land near Syracuse or Johnson City.

Edsall agrees the electrical grid needs to be updated, but he also wants to see the project stopped.

Until NYSEG can demonstrate the need for the new line, can certify the project will be done safely and takes on the liability for the project, Edsall said he doesn’t want to see the project moving forward.

Mertens remains worried and is still trying to gather more information on the project.

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