Mans­field power line fight con­tin­ues

The Covington News - - Front page - GABRIEL KHOULI gkhouli@cov­news.com

The fight by city of­fi­cials to keep new power lines out of the small city of Mans­field will fi­nally be de­cided in court more than a year af­ter the con­tentious is­sue first sur­faced.

Ge­or­gia Trans­mis­sion Cor­po­ra­tion is tak­ing steps to build a 3.2-mile trans­mis­sion line that will pass through Mans­field in an ef­fort to pro­vide more elec­tric­ity ca­pac­ity to re­gional res­i­dents, but a re­main­ing hur­dle is a tract of dis­puted city-owned land that city of­fi­cials say the cor­po­ra­tion can’t build on.

Beaver Man­u­fac­tur­ing do­nated 15 acres of land to the city of Mans­field in the spring to be used as a pub­lic park; the land is di­rectly in the path of the Ge­or­gia Trans­mis­sion’s pro­posed power line and could block the project from com­ing to fruition as cur­rently planned. That prop­erty and one piece of pri­vate prop­erty are the last two out of 24 ease­ments that Ge­or­gia Trans­mis­sion needs to ac­quire to build its line. Le­gal ar­gu­ments

Based on doc­u­ments filed at the New­ton County Su­pe­rior Court, the main is­sues ap­pear to be whether Ge­or­gia Trans­mis­sion does in fact have the author­ity to use its em­i­nent do­main rights to build power lines on pub­lic prop­erty and, if it does, whether a power line and a pub­lic park can be legally con­sid­ered co-ex­ist­ing uses.

Ad­di­tion­ally, Ge­or­gia Trans­mis­sion ar­gues that their prob­lems with the trans­fer of the land from Beaver to Mans­field mak­ing the trans­fer in­valid, which would elim­i­nate the two is­sues above. How­ever, Ge­or­gia Trans­mis­sion doesn’t spec­ify what the prob­lems are but does ques­tion the tim­ing of the trans­fer.

How­ever, the at­tor­ney rep­re­sent­ing Mans­field, Don Evans, said the land be­came pub­lic land be­fore Ge­or­gia Trans­mis­sion had any le­gal in­ter­est in the prop­erty and that the claim of prob­lems has no ba­sis.

“GTC claims there is some ir­reg­u­lar­ity, but they’ve never said what it was and the case has been pend­ing for Judge (John) Ott since July 11. We’re in Au­gust now and they have not yet con­jured up any ir­reg­u­lar­ity. None,” Evans said Thurs­day.

As­sum­ing that the land is pub­lic land at this point, both sides still dis­agree about the path for­ward. Ge­or­gia Trans­mis­sion said it is al­lowed to use em­i­nent do­main on pub­lic land, while the city re­futes that claim. Both groups cite case laws from Ge­or­gia.

“Util­i­ties in Ge­or­gia have the right of em­i­nent do­main to pre­vent an en­tity like the city from deny­ing an es­sen­tial ser­vice like re­li­able power to an en­tire community. We take this right very se­ri­ously and use it only as a last re­sort and af­ter ex­ten­sive at­tempts to reach an agree­ment have been un­suc­cess­ful,” said Ge­or­gia Trans­mis­sion spokes­woman Jeannine Haynes, who said con­dem­na­tion cases are rare. “The rout­ing process for the trans­mis­sion line be­gan al­most two years ago. The city knew the pre­ferred route of the trans­mis­sion line crossed the prop­erty long be­fore they de­cided to build a park there. It is com­mon for trans­mis­sion lines to be on park prop­erty and the line would not hin­der the use of the park in any way.”

On the other hand, Evans said the law is clearly on Mans­field’s side.

“There is no ques­tion; the law of Ge­or­gia is clear that an elec­tric com­pany does not have right to con­demn mu­nic­i­pal prop­erty,” Evans said, who said the com­pany’s em­i­nent do­mains rights are strictly lim­ited.

If Judge Ott rules in Ge­or­gia Trans­mis­sion’s fa­vor, Mans­field could ap­peal the de­ci­sion to court of ap­peals. If that were to hap­pen, it would be un­clear if Ge­or­gia Trans­mis­sion would be al­lowed to start work­ing on the land im­me­di­ately or have to wait for the ap­pel­late case to be heard. Evans said the judge could de­cide ei­ther way. Agree on dis­agree­ing

Mans­field of­fi­cials want what they’ve al­ways wanted: the power line to sim­ply be rerouted around the small city.

“We have con­tended all along that our town is only one square mile in size. You’re telling me you couldn’t find a way around through all the farm land and pas­ture land,” Mans­field Mayor Es­tona Mid­dle­brooks said, who also said the power line would cause many valu­able hard­wood trees to be cut down on the scenic prop­erty. The ease­ment would take up to 3.129 acres.

How­ever, prior ne­go­ti­a­tions on al­ter­na­tive routes stalled out, as Ge­or­gia Trans­mis­sion said those other op­tions had larger en­vi­ron­men­tal ef­fects and cost more money. In ad­di­tion, Ge­or­gia Trans­mis­sion hopes to have the power line up and pro­vid­ing power by De­cem­ber, so it had to move on from the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble.

“Our job is to keep the lights on. Lo­cat­ing this new trans­mis­sion line has been a bal­anc­ing act be­tween the wishes of a small community group and the elec­tri­cal needs of the greater community,” Haynes said.

The power pro­vided by a new sub­sta­tion and the trans­mis­sion line will pro­vide in­creased elec­tri­cal ca­pac­ity to res­i­dents in the area south of Mans­field to Monticello as well as those along Al­covy Road and in So­cial Circle.

Mans­field of­fi­cials have been up­set in part be­cause the power won’t even ben­e­fit Mans­field; how­ever Haynes said no al­ter­na­tive was bet­ter.

“We want to be good neigh­bors. We met with the group many times and ac­tively sought their in­put. We care­fully an­a­lyzed the al­ter­na­tive cor- ri­dors they pro­posed… We could not say those al­ter­na­tives were bet­ter. We will continue to work to reach an agree­ment with the city and com­plete this line on sched­ule to en­sure that this area con­tin­ues to have re­li­able power.”

How­ever, no work on the power lines in the city lim­its will be tak­ing place any time soon, as the city coun­cil “adopted a 60-day mora­to­rium on the con­struc­tion or in­stal­la­tion of new high volt­age elec­tric trans­mis­sion lines.” The city says it has the right to do so, be­cause the lines will run along the city’s streets and the city can en­sure that util­i­ties don’t in­ter­fere with the use of any por­tion of the city street sys­tem.

Haynes said Ge­or­gia Trans­mis­sion has en­gaged le­gal coun­sel re­gard­ing the mora­to­rium.

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