La Plata council agrees to SMECO transmission lines on East Hawthorne Drive
Town property owners are against the SMECO decision
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.