La Plata coun­cil agrees to SMECO trans­mis­sion lines on East Hawthorne Drive

Town prop­erty own­ers are against the SMECO de­ci­sion

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By TIF­FANY WAT­SON twat­son@somd­news.com

The La Plata Town Coun­cil adopted a res­o­lu­tion Tues­day that will al­low South­ern Mary­land Elec­tric Co­op­er­a­tive to run trans­mis­sion lines through East Hawthorne Drive lo­cated in La Plata.

“SMECO has a need to add trans­mis­sion equip­ment and new power lines to bet­ter serve our town and sur­round­ing com­mu­nity,” Mayor Roy G. Hale said. “SMECO built a new trans­mis­sion site on county prop­erty ad­ja­cent to the Town of La Plata and power poles sup­port­ing this new site will be placed within the town. The town owns a right of way upon which SMECO de­sires

to place a power pole. The pro­posed site of the pole is ad­ja­cent to un­de­vel­oped land that cur­rently is up for sale.”

In Novem­ber, SMECO gave a pre­sen­ta­tion to the coun­cil regarding their plans to run trans­mis­sion lines along East Hawthorne Drive to their new sub­sta­tion, which is lo­cated im­me­di­ately across the tracks from Hawthorne Drive. SMECO plans to run the trans­mis­sion lines west, out­side of the town.

The coun­cil adopted a res­o­lu­tion to ac­cept SMECO’s of­fer of pub­lic use for the unim­proved por­tion of East Hawthorne Drive ly­ing ap­prox­i­mately 150 feet west of the Penn­syl­va­nia Rail­road right-of-way, and when the trans­mis­sion lines are

com­plete it will span La Plata, east to west.

Dur­ing the pub­lic fo­rum of the coun­cil meet­ing on Mon­day, La Plata prop­erty own­ers Tom Hig­don Jr. and Joe Hig­don were present along with Phyl­lis Frere, rep­re­sent­ing La Plata prop­erty owner Doris Frere, to ex­press their con­cerns about SMECO adding trans­mis­sion lines and a 70 foot tall pole in the town, specif­i­cally by their prop­erty on East Hawthorne Drive.

The Hig­don broth­ers claimed that in early December, a rep­re­sen­ta­tive from SMECO met with them about putting a 70 foot pole and trans­mis­sion lines, ap­prox­i­mately 2 feet away from their prop­erty. They said they were not ex­cited about the large ob­struc­tion.

“SMECO tried to ne­go­ti­ate with us and they pro­posed an of­fer to us but we didn’t feel it was a proper of­fer be­cause we thought the prop­erty was be­ing im­pacted by the size of the mon­stros­ity that they were plan­ning to put there,” said Tom Hig­don Jr. “They don’t like the idea of try­ing to ne­go­ti­ate with us. They thought that we should fall down and ac­cept their of­fer and just live with it. They bul­lied us into think­ing that they could just come along and take our prop­erty. We asked them to ne­go­ti­ate fur­ther but we didn’t get much co­op­er­a­tion. All of a sud­den we heard that the town is go­ing to grant them a pub­lic ease­ment on the road.”

The Hig­don broth­ers be­lieve that the coun­cil should not get in­volved in the mat­ter.

“We are ne­go­ti­at­ing with th­ese peo­ple for an ease­ment and it has noth­ing to do with the right of way you guys want to give them to de­stroy our ac­cess to our prop­erty,” Tom Hig­don said. “It is not right. You have no right to de­stroy our ac­cess in fa­vor of them. They are a pub­lic util­ity and you are try­ing to lean and be more fa­vor­able to them. I would ask that you give us con­sid­er­a­tion and let this thing play out be­fore you go and de­stroy what we have just be­cause you can.”

His brother, Joe Hig­don, a New­burg res­i­dent, said that his main con­cern is the place­ment of the pole in the road­way. He is wor­ried that it is that go­ing to in­ter­fere with their abil­ity to ac­cess and de­velop the prop­erty as own­ers.

“SMECO is talk­ing about place­ment of 70 foot tall trans­mis­sion lines and it is not a typ­i­cal elec­tric pole,” Joe Hig­don said. “I grew up in La Plata and I was kind of sad when I thought of a 70 foot pole and trans­mis­sion line be­ing run down East Hawthorne Drive, one of the old­est es­tab­lished neigh­bor­hoods in La Plata. It’s just not your typ­i­cal res­i­den­tial pole and I don’t un­der­stand why SMECO seems to be com­ing in the back door in con­junc­tion with the Town of La Plata to try and work this mat­ter out. To me thats a red flag, some­thing re­ally needs to be given con­sid­er­a­tion here. This is some­thing we’d re­ally like for you [the town coun­cil] to take a look at be­fore you grant them per­mis­sion be­cause some­thing just doesn’t seem right.”

Tom Hig­don said he feels that the town has un­der­mined the in­tegrity of in­di­vid­ual prop­erty own­ers by not al­low­ing SMECO to pay an ease­ment to prop­erty own­ers. He said by SMECO go­ing through the town, the util­ity com­pany would not have to pay an ease­ment.

“The own­ers of the prop­erty, the Hig­dons, want to en­sure that the place­ment of the pole does hot in­ter­fere with their ac­cess rights to the land,” Hale said. “This is a le­git­i­mate con­cern of the prop­erty own­ers and based upon the dis­cus­sion, the coun­cil con­curs. The even­tual place­ment of the pole will be de­cided by SMECO and the Town of La Plata.”

Town Man­ager Daniel Mears said the or­di­nance is tak­ing the right of way that was plat­ted 73 years ago in La Plata and declar­ing that it is the Town of La Plata right of way and au­tho­rizes SMECO to work within the Town of La Plata prop­erty. Mears added that the or­di­nance does not say that the town will be in­fring­ing on any­one else’s prop­erty rights.

“SMECO would not be plac­ing a pole in the town’s right of way that would im­pede our road as shown in the pre­sen­ta­tion from SMECO sev­eral months ago in re­gards to this project,” Mears said. “This has been re­viewed by the plan­ning staff and the pub­lic works staff and this is ad­e­quate. It should not heed ac­cess to the prop­erty and SMECO said they would make sure that ac­cess is pro­vided to the prop­erty own­ers.”

Hugh Voehl III, SMECO trans­mis­sion and sub­sta­tion en­gi­neer­ing man­ager, said that com­ing to the coun­cil was the best al­ter­na­tive since SMECO made “very rea­son­able of­fers” to try to re­solve the sit­u­a­tion with

the Hig­don family. How­ever, Voehl said the of­fers “fell on deaf ears.”

“We reached out to the Hig­don family since day one in re­gards to their pro­posed de­vel­op­ment plans and we did ev­ery­thing to ac­com­mo­date their de­vel­op­ments to make sure that our post project does not in­ter­fere with their project or their ac­cess,” Voehl said. “We’re not go­ing to in­ter­fere with what they have planned in the fu­ture.”

Voehl said SMECO will be

re­plac­ing an ex­ist­ing pole with a new pole, which will be more of an aerial ease­ment or overhead line, to clear the ex­ist­ing road for the wires that will go through East Hawthorne Drive.

“The next step for us now that the town has adopted the ease­ment is now for us to go through the for­mal per­mit­ting process,” Voehl said.

Austin J. Slater Jr., SMECO pres­i­dent and chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer, said they are pleased with the de­ci­sion of the coun­cil and noted that this is a very im­por­tant project for SMECO, as well as its cus­tomers and con­stituents in La Plata, to en­sure re­li­able power for them.

“The prop­erty is in the ju­ris­dic­tion of the town, its just never been adopted or as­serted so we had to push the en­ve­lope to get clar­ity as to whose prop­erty is which and they agreed to do that tonight so now we can pro­ceed with the project,” Slater said.

In other busi­ness dur­ing Mon­day’s meet­ing, Mears gave a brief, de­tailed pre­sen­ta­tion about the town’s FY2017 bud­get, and then coun­cil adopted the FY20162017 Fi­nan­cial Plan/Bud­get or­di­nance, as well as the town’s fee sched­ule for FY2016-2017.

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