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Popular orchard on Mason-Dixon Line could be in path of big power line project

Shaw Orchards in White Hall, which has been a family-run enterprise since 1909, is known for the apples, peaches and other produce that can be picked right off the tree or purchased in the on-site farm market.

That operation is under threat, though, from Transource Energy's proposed Independence Energy Connection project to build new power transmission lines though southern York County, Pa. and northern Harford County, orchard owner Barron Shaw says.

"My position is, we would not like any of it to be built, but especially not here, please," he said Wednesday.

Shaw is one of a number of people on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line opposed to the project, fearing the transmission towers and lines could cut through properties, scenic highways or harm the environment in their largely rural communities.

The Shaw family agreed to put the 200-acre farm in a state-run agricultural preservation program in the early 2000s and sell their development rights.

"Our understanding was, it was supposed to remain unspoiled," Shaw said.

Shaw, 47, took over the ownership of the orchard from his parents, Glenn and Mary Sue Shaw, in 2013. His parents, who are now retired, still live in the family house built in the mid-1800s and located across Norrisville Road from the orchard on the Pennsylvania side of the state line.

Shaw and his wife, Jana, 48, run the orchard and market with help from their daughters, Grace Anne, 15, and Abby, 13, along with a number of employees that fluctuates with the seasons.

Shaw said "it's not unusual for us to have 30 people on the payroll" during peak season between July and October.

They sell fruit wholesale to supermarkets in addition to the retail and pick-your-own operations.

"We have a lot of great customers who come here, season after season, and make great memories," Jana Shaw said.

Shaw became emotional when asked why he took over the orchard — he studied engineering in college and spent 20 years working for major corporations in the computer information systems field.

His wife said she managed a law firm, was a stay-at-home mom and taught gymnastics before running the orchards.

"There was no alternative, to me — literally, the clock was running out," he said. "My parents were getting old, my kids were growing up, and it was a now-or-never kind of thing."

Shaw noted the property lost value when it was put in ag preservation, as it cannot be developed.

"I feel like we've been betrayed," he said. "It seems like we did something that was a good deal for the environment and the people of Maryland and now this?"

Transource, which is headquartered in Columbus, Ohio, is building 40 miles of new transmission lines in Maryland and Pennsylvania — 25 miles in western Pennsylvania and Maryland, and 15 miles through Harford and York counties.

The power lines, along with new substations in Pennsylvania and upgrades to existing substations in Maryland, are being built for PJM Interconnection, operator of an electric grid serving 13 states.

Utility officials expect the $320 million project would save consumers in the region $600 million over 15 years, as it will deliver cheaper power produced in this area to consumers in other states whose electric rates are higher, according to a Transource spokesperson.

The project is still in the planning stages. Transource officials have encouraged people to give their comments either by phone at 1-800-440-4213 on online at www.transourceenergyprojects.com.

The community group Stop Transource Power Lines-Harford County Md. will host a meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Izaak Walton League of America Sportsman's Chapter at 5018 Onion Road in Pylesville.

The purpose is to prepare for upcoming open houses hosted by Transource, according to the group's Facebook page.

Meetings for the eastern routes are scheduled for 6 to 9 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 9 at Norrisville Elementary School and from 6 to 9 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 10 at Kennard-Dale High School in Fawn Grove, Pa.

"Regarding the peach orchard, it is not certain that the property will be impacted," Rick Abbruzzese, a spokesperson for Transource, wrote in an email Wednesday. "We have more public input to take and then the state process."

The project still must be approved by utility regulatory agencies in both states, he said.

Farm tour

Two potential routes cut through east and west sides of the Shaw property on the way to the Conastone Substation near Norrisville, according to a map posted on the project website.

"Transource will work to negotiate on fair market value," Abbruzzese said regarding property acquisition. "We find that's the best starting point that leads to the most successful negotiations."

Shaw gave an Aegis reporter and photographer a tour of the property, with its rolling hills covered by pumpkin patches, peach orchards, apple orchards and cornfields.

Shaw also grows strawberries, blueberries and cherries that can be picked by customers.

Shaw pointed out an existing power line that crosses his property, although it is much smaller than the proposed Transource lines.

He questioned why Transource could not put their lines on existing infrastructure that has extra space.

"Existing infrastructure isn't necessarily aligned to provide the needed reinforcement to the grid," Abbruzzese stated. "We do look to parallel where possible, but we cannot put these on existing structures."

Shaw pointed out where a transmission line could be over the heads of people in the pumpkin patch, as well as where lines could come through a peach orchard that is just producing fruit this year.

The yellow-and-orange peaches could be seen hanging from the branches, about the size of baseballs.

Shaw also drove through acres of apple trees sporting rapidly-growing green and red varieties of apples.

He showed where one route could come through an apple orchard planted this year.

Shaw stressed that the orchards are a "destination" for people from around the region — some from as far away as the Washington, D.C. suburbs — for the experience of picking their own fruit.

"A 135-foot [high] power line changes that beyond description," he said.

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