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Farmer says possibility of power line on his land 'like a punch to the gut'

August 23, 2008|By JOSHUA BOWMAN

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- Brian Loudenslager bought half of his family's farm four years ago with the intention of raising a family there.

He waited until two weeks ago to move into the farmhouse on the property, allowing a renter time to finish the lease and find another place to live.

One week after moving in, Loudenslager found out that a swath of the farm where cows graze and alfalfa grows soon could be cleared to make way for a high-voltage power line.

"It's like a punch to the gut," Loudenslager said. "This is where I've wanted to be my whole life."

Loudenslager's farm north of Boonsboro sits on one of several routes that have been suggested for the Potomac Appalachian Transmission Highline (PATH), which would run from St. Albans, W.Va., through Bedington, W.Va., to Kemptown, Md., in Frederick County.

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Allegheny Power, which is building the Maryland portion of the $1.8 billion line, and other energy industry officials say the line is needed to prevent the region's power grid from becoming overloaded.

Energy analysts have projected blackouts as early as 2012 if several lines, including the PATH line, are not built.

Allegheny Power still is several months away from determining the line's path, but a map of possible routes released this month has made southern Washington County residents and preservationists nervous.

If the PATH line runs through Washington County, it would travel south of Williamsport and pass into Frederick County near Boonsboro, according to the maps.

At a public meeting in Boonsboro earlier this month, several southern Washington County residents looked at aerial photographs that showed where those routes would run.

"It's not on my property, but it would go right over my neighbor's house," said Dennis Palmer, who lives on Boonsboro Mountain Road.

Much of the land around Palmer's property is zoned for agricultural use or conservation. His property borders the Appalachian Trail and Greenbrier State Park.

Palmer wondered how the power company could choose a route that would run within a mile of so much protected land.

"It's agricultural around here. A lot of people have easements," Palmer said. "I don't understand why they wouldn't just use an existing route instead."

Allegheny Power spokesman Todd L. Meyers has said the power company will try to build the line parallel to existing power lines wherever possible, though he said it is unlikely that the entire line will track on existing paths.

There are two general routes that would cut through Washington County, each of which has several branches.

One of the two routes would run parallel to an existing power line, while the other would cut a new trail.

The route that would parallel an existing line passes between one and two miles north of Antietam National Battlefield.

Battlefield Superintendent John W. Howard has said he is worried that an additional line there could require considerable land clearing on South Mountain, which he said would be visible from the battlefield.

Washington County Planning Director Michael C. Thompson said neither route is desirable.

"Most of the land (where the routes are proposed) is open space," Thompson said. "But that doesn't mean you won't impact people."

The maps show that the proposed routes through Washington County cut across several conservation districts, open space easements and agricultural areas.

Loudenslager's farm is protected by a permanent state easement that was placed on the property by his father several years ago.

The easement prohibits all uses except farming on the property, even if it is sold, for the life of the farm.

Eric Seifarth, Washington County rural preservation administrator, said he has taken several calls from property owners in southern Washington County who want to know how the power line will affect their protected land.

Seifarth said it is his understanding that even if the line is built across an easement-protected farm, the easement still will apply to the property.

Seifarth said he is planning several conference calls with state officials to see if anything can be done to avoid the easement-protected properties.

"At this point, if they build it here, I don't know if I want to be here anymore," said Loudenslager, who said he would be worried about the health of his family living so close to high-voltage power lines.

Allegheny Power hopes to apply for state regulatory approvals for the PATH line by December, at which time a final route will have been chosen.

The state likely will spend about a year deciding on regulatory approvals, during which time public hearings will be held.

If the line is approved, it will take about two years to build.

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