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Members of the Ayd family - Frank Ayd V, left, Frank Ayd IV and Johnathan Ayd - of New Park, Pa., wear their shirts opposing Transource Energy's proposed power line project through northern Harford County and southern Pennsylvania.
Members of the Ayd family - Frank Ayd V, left, Frank Ayd IV and Johnathan Ayd - of New Park, Pa., wear their shirts opposing Transource Energy's proposed power line project through northern Harford County and southern Pennsylvania. (Erika Butler / Baltimore Sun)

As Harford County joins the fight against Transource Energy’s plan to build new power lines in northern Harford County and York County, Pa., members of the county’s delegation to the Maryland General Assembly are working to make it more difficult for Transource to continue its project.

On Dec. 27, Transource Energy filed an application with the Maryland Public Service Commission to build the Independence Energy Connection project. The company plans to build 40 miles of new power lines, including about 3.1 miles in northern Harford County.

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At its meeting Tuesday night, the Harford County Council introduced a resolution which, if approved, would express its opposition to Transource’s project.

“We are against this, and I’m doing everything in my power to make sure it doesn’t happen,” said Councilman Chad Shrodes, who represents the area where the power lines are proposed.

The community fight against a power line project planned across the northwestern corner of Harford County that sparked protests in the latter half of 2017 will continue into the new year, opponents have vowed, as the project’s owner seeks final state regulatory approvals.

He and Council President Richard Slutzky sent a letter in December to the PSC’s chairman and executive director expressing their opposition.

“This further strengthens the council’s position that we are against this project,” Shrodes said.

The council did not act on the resolution, which does not require a public hearing, but could at its next meeting, scheduled for Jan. 23.

Harford County Executive Barry Glassman said the county plans to join the case before the PSC as an intervener.

The county’s position is that the proposed route of the new power lines goes through two properties that have Harford County agricultural easements on them.

“Our testimony is the land does not permit transmission lines like this on our easements,” Glassman said in a phone interview Tuesday, referring to properties on Norrisville Road and Church Lane.

A county attorney will file the county’s position and attend the hearings on Transource’s application, he said.

As part of its review of Transource’s application, the PSC has to decide if the project is for the public good, Glassman said.

“Does the public necessity override the local jurisdiction’s easement” is what the PSC will have to determine, he said.

Council resolution

The council’s resolution “really sounds like poetry,” Shrodes said. “It’s very strong, but it also flows very well.”

Harford County elected officials, as well as landowners, continue to monitor the proposed Transource power line project through Maryland and Pennsylvania. Transource plans to file its application with the Maryland PSC by the end of 2017.

The resolution states the Transource project is not necessary for several reasons, including that the company’s existing lines that run parallel to the proposed route, are not being fully used.

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It also states the new lines will bring no local benefit and it cuts through Harford’s land preservation programs, easements entered into by the county and the state.

The resolution points out that the Agricultural Article of the Harford County Code the easements precludes use of the land for non-agricultural uses; that the Agricultural Article of the Annotated Code of Maryland the intent of the State Agricultural Preservation Program is to project agricultural land and woodland as open space; that the route is in a Harford County Priority Preservation Area, the goal of which is to project natural, forestry and historic resources and the rural character of the state’s farmland; and the project and route do not advance any of those goals and “in fact, will impair the rural character of the landscape.”

Removing land from the ag preservation easements “is not in the best interests” of Harford residents, according to the resolution.

The resolution states Transource has not provided any information that it has no alternative route for the proposed power lines, and that it still has established transmission line easements and existing equipment that can be used rather than take, by eminent demand, new easements from private property owners.

“…The citizens and residents of Harford County have expressed vociferous objection to the proposed transmission line project and …the county council has investigated and evaluated the proposed project and determined that it is not in the best interests of the citizens of Harford County,” the resolution states, and recommends the PSC deny the application by Transource of MD.

Members of Stop Transource Maryland, the group working to stop the power lines on both sides of the Mason-Dixon line, thanked the council for its resolution.

“It’s certainly rewarding and appropriate that this council has acted at the request and recommendation of its citizens in response to what we have determined is a threat to property owners rights in the transmission application for this new easement,” Aimee O’Neill, of Norrisville, who is co-chair of Stop Transource Maryland with Patti Hankins.

Statement by Transource Energy leader praises public participation in Independence Energy Connection project and gives updates on next steps.

O’Neill said she believes the council can enact legislation that will prevent companies such as Transource from using eminent domain to take a private property.

“We challenge you to continue in this effort to create legislation that will effect real change and continue protection of your citizens property rights by limited the ability of a private, for-profit utility company to create new easements to disrupt property owners use of their property for transmission of a public utility,” O’Neill said.

Transource has yet to prove that the new power lines are necessary, Barron Shaw, owner of Shaw Orchards, which straddles the Maryland-Pennsylvania border, said.

Of the 10 properties the lines are proposed to go through, eight or nine of them are in preservation, he said, including his.

At the highest point of his property looking south, “you can almost see all the way to Baltimore,” Shaw told the council.

He was on his property recently with his representative from Pennsylvania and could see a tower to the west. One side of it was completely empty, he said.

“It’s very hard for someone in my position to understand how the state could grant an eminent domain grab in a situation like that,” Shaw said, asking the 18 or so property owners in Maryland and Pennsylvania to stand for the council.

Members of the Ayd family – Frank Ayd IV, Frank Ayd V and Johnathan Ayd of New Park, Pa. – wore T-shirts that said “This is our Garden of Eden, Transource is the devil” and “Don’t believe the lies, Transource can be stopped.”

The first two routes proposed by Transource went through their property, the third and final route does not.

“But it still affects our community, so we’re still involved,” Frank Ayd IV said.

Hankins urged the council to continue to watch the Transource project, as residents on both sides of the Mason-Dixon continue their opposition.

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“One thing we’ve learned through this process is we love our community and we’re going to protect our community with all our hearts,” Hankins said. “That’s been one beneficial thing, we all know members of our community we didn’t know before, and that’s a blessing.”

At the state level

Sen. J.B. Jennings and Del. Kathy Szeliga are working on several pieces of legislation to address the Transource project, including PJM’s plans for future power lines.

PJM Interconnection is a regional electric transmission grid operator that hired Transource Energy to build the project.

One piece of legislation would repeal a law passed during last year’s Maryland General Assembly session that gave public utility companies the right to use eminent domain to take land if a project is deemed viable by the PSC.

“People think the bill last year deals directly with Transource. It doesn’t,” Jennings said. “The bill came from the PSC to clean up their regulations. It just happened to be that Transource came back a year later with a project that falls under that.”

The repeal is not a full-out repeal, Jennings said, but it looks at the regulations to make sure they’re done in a manner that is best for property owners.

Another bill would project properties other than those adjacent to those affected.

“If a high voltage power line project is going on a property next to yours, they don’t have to notify you, nor do they have to compensate you for lost property value,” Szeliga said. “That’s ridiculous. That’s just unfair and inequitable, just because you live on an adjacent property or across the street from one of these power lines. It’s absolutely going to affect you. Whoever is going to benefit from those lines should have to pay for the devaluation of their property. That’s a fair and honest thing that has to happen.”

Szeliga said she expects the bills will be introduced by the end of the month.

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