Conservancy objects to energy highway route

Tia Lynn Ivey News

The Madison-Morgan Conservancy is objecting to a proposed route for the new $27 million energy project that will feature a six-mile transmission line that will run from the new an energy hub from the new Facebook Data Center in Stanton Springs down to a new substation to be built near Verner Farms in Rutledge.

The conservancy is worried that the concrete polls, which range between 80 and 120 feet high, will denigrate the scenic view of a historically significant area in Morgan County—the historic Davis Crossroads located at the intersection of Old Mill Road and Davis Academy Road. The conservancy has proposed an alternate route to the company in charge of the project, The Georgia Transmission Corporation (GTC).

“We want the infrastructure, but we just don’t want it to be such a major scar on something that the landowners and community have worked so hard to protect as beautiful,” said Christine McCauley, director of the Madison-Morgan Conservancy, who noted the route the conservancy proposes avoids all the conservation easements and historic structures that are eligible for the Georgia National Register of Historic Places.

The conservancy is asking GTC to use a different route that would place the new “energy highway” closer to the existing tree line to better blend in to the surrounding area.

“Three corners of the Davis Crossroads have been permanently protected by conservation easements that were donated by landowners to protect the scenic, agricultural, and historic resources found there.  In the project area, there are numerous historic structures eligible for the National Register.  As you can imagine, a substation and transmission lines will negatively impact the scenic values which those conservation easements protect and will significantly impact the historic integrity of some of Morgan County’s most important historic resources,” explained McCauley. “GTC is not too concerned about the Conservancy’s opinion regarding the routes of the transmission lines because the Conservancy does not hold the three conservation easements (2 held by a land trust, 1 held by NRCS) or any land affected by the transmission lines.  Only two landowners’ properties will be condemned in this process, but many other properties will be majorly affected, and of course, the general public passing through this area will lose their beautiful view.  In general, their proposed routes for the transmission lines are not good for landowners’ market value of their property, not good for the public, and not good for tourism – so we the Conservancy is stepping up to try to remedy the situation by proposing feasible alternatives.”

Terry Cole, public affairs director for the GTC, maintains that the company is carefully considering the best route to minimize negative impacts throughout the community.

“We know that wherever a transmission line is built it will have an impact, so we take our responsibility to find the best route possible very seriously.  In fact we employ a robust process that includes a nationally recognized siting model coupled with extensive input from the community,” said Cole.  “For this project, we have worked closely with the affected property owners as well as other members of the community to understand the concerns and opportunities.  That includes three public meetings, meetings with elected officials, meetings with affected property owners, and meetings with the Madison-Morgan Conservancy.  We’re currently evaluating all of the information and comments received, and will determine a final route that considers the varied interests of those groups and community members with the electric reliability needs of the area.”

The conservancy is hoping the added information they submitted to GTC will slow the process down and convince planners to opt for a different route. McCauley lamented that Morgan County’s Greenprint plan was not included in the county’s Comprehensive Plan as an added protection in this matter.

“Our local issue is how can we be proactive in locating this kind of infrastructure, working with the utilities instead of against them after decisions are made?  If the Morgan County Greenprint had been adopted as part of the Comprehensive Plan, we would have had a chance to negotiate this siting before it was already done,” said McCauley.  “The bigger issue is how do we reign in the power of utilities to condemn conservation easements?  The current industry practice of targeting conservation easements for utility infrastructure development is maybe smart economics (wide open, sparsely populated, cheap land), but it’s an unethical business practice and may prove to be a public relations nightmare for utilities in communities like ours, where landowners have given away part of their net worth for the public benefit of future generations and have invested in their homes and farms believing they are protected by these conservation easements.”

GTC is expected to officially finalize the route of the new transmission line in coming weeks. The Georgia Transmission Corporation is planning to have the transmission line and substations up and running by September of 2019.

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