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Harford landowners, officials plan to continue farmland advocacy in Transource power line project

Property owners on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line between Maryland and Pennsylvania plan to continue their fight against Transource Energy’s plan to build new power lines in northern Harford County and York County, Pa.

“I’m not only going to follow it, I’m going to fight it really hard,” Barron Shaw, owner of Shaw Orchards in White Hall, said Wednesday. “I don’t think you’re going to find any property owners that aren’t going to fight it in Maryland.”

His 200-acre family farm, which includes pick-your-own peach and apple orchards and a farm market, is protected from development through a state agricultural preservation program.

Shaw and other landowners, especially those whose farms are in state or local ag preservation programs, have been organizing this year to fight Transource’s $320 million Independence Energy Connection project.

Transource officials plan to build 40 miles of new power lines — 25 miles in western Pennsylvania and Maryland and 15 miles in the eastern part of the two states — upgrade existing substations and build new substations so the operator of the 13-state electric grid, PJM Interconnection, can clear congestion and move power more efficiently.

Officials expect the new infrastructure would save consumers in the region $600 million over 15 years. It is expected to be in service by 2020.

Property owners on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line fear losing land in ag preservation as well as harm to scenic highways, the environment and area businesses.

The proposed routes have been posted on the Independence Energy Connection website, which can be accessed through http://www.transourceenergyprojects.com.

Maps show the Harford County section of the route skirting the edge of Shaw’s farm, which is just south of the Mason-Dixon Line, between his property and that of his next-door neighbors, the Tanners.

He fears the right-of-way for the power lines could cut into part of his peach orchard near the fence separating his and his neighbor’s property.

“As far as I see, it does still have an impact,” Shaw said.

The route takes a sharp left turn after Shaw Orchards and runs south roughly parallel to Route 23. It twists and turns through wooded areas and fields before crossing Church Lane and heading behind the Norrisville Library, Recreation Center and Norrisville Elementary School.

It then crosses Green Road and Jolly Acres Road before ending at the Conastone Substation in Norrisville.

“Transource works with landowners to negotiate the property rights needed for vital infrastructure,” Rick Abbruzzese, a spokesperson for the Columbus, Ohio company wrote in an email Tuesday. “We treat landowners with respect, and our goal is to fairly compensate property owners for land encumbered by the project.”

Elected officials at the state and county level have been monitoring the project as well. It must be approved by the Maryland Public Service Commission and the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission.

Transource expects to file its application in Maryland by the end of 2017, Abbruzzese wrote.

Applicants must file for PSC approval online, and the public can visit the agency’s website, http://www.psc.state.md.us, to view a case, according to PSC spokesperson Tori Leonard.

Republican Del. Kathy Szeliga, whose district includes the area of Harford County affected by the Transource lines, recently said she and Republican state Sen. J.B. Jennings want the Maryland PSC to hold public hearings in Harford County, rather than its headquarters in Baltimore.

Public hearings are usually held in the community where infrastructure will be built, according to Leonard.

“It looks like they’ve intentionally chosen a route that goes across preserved land,” Szeliga said during the Harford delegation’s pre-session meeting Nov. 1 at the Abingdon Library.

The route covers about three miles in Harford County and would affect eight properties that are in ag preservation — six through state programs and two through county programs, Harford County Executive Barry Glassman told legislators at the Nov. 1 meeting.

“Our policy on these type of transmission lines are that our ag agreements do not allow those kind of easements to be put across,” Glassman said.

He expressed concern that eminent domain legislation approved by the General Assembly last year could allow Transource to override the county’s agreements with farmers.

“If the PSC says it is for the public good and gives Transource the ability to exercise condemnation to put the power line in, Senate Bill 969 trumps the county contract,” Glassman said.

He said the county government, its agricultural preservation board and farmers have worked with developers in the past to ensure any transmission lines are built in the “least impactful area,” away from crops.

Glassman said the county does not have the authority to stop the Transource project from going through preserved land.

“We will be consistent, however, that our contracts do not allow it, and we would certainly make the PSC file condemnation approval to do it,” he said.

Abbruzzese wrote that “eminent domain is rarely used, and only considered when the negotiation process comes to an impasse.”

Szeliga expressed concerns that Transource is seeking preserved land because it is more affordable than non-preserved land — landowners agree to forego their development rights when putting their property in preservation, which affects the property value.

“A number of complex variables are considered and reviewed during the power line siting process including land use, environmental constraints and the location of existing infrastructure like other power lines and roads,” Abbruzzese wrote.

Abbruzzese stated that “Transource also looked to parallel existing infrastructure where possible, reduce the number of residences impacted and avoid environmental disturbances.”

The PSC must give “significant weight and consideration” to local zoning regulations when approving a route for power infrastructure, Leonard said.

She said there have been instances when a developer might seek a zoning exception that the local government denies.

“The commission’s authority could supersede that, but it doesn’t necessarily mean it will in every case, because the commission gives significant weight and consideration to local zoning ordinances,” Leonard said.

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