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PATH protesters plan to tie up traffic

May 15, 2009|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. -- One of the busiest short stretches of road in the Tri-State area on any summer Sunday afternoon is U.S. 340 where it connects three states between bridges spanning the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers across from Harpers Ferry, W.Va.

What better place, then, say two Shepherdstown, W.Va., area women to hold a protest against a proposed electric power line in late May.

The women explained their protest plans Thursday morning to the Jefferson County Commissioners.

"We thought that while we won't be causing a traffic jam, why not take advantage of one," said Kerwyn Newcom, who, with her friend and neighbor, Patience Wait, is organizing the demonstration scheduled for May 31 from 3 to 5 p.m. 

The area becomes a weekend mecca for canoeists, kayakers, rafters and visitors to the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. Most drive from metropolitan areas.

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Traffic backs up far into Maryland and West Virginia on such weekends. A three-way stoplight at the road leading south off U.S. 340 into Virginia adds to the congestion.

Local residents know to avoid the area, especially on Sundays.

Newcom and Wait are encouraging protestors to line up on the riverside in the sixth-tenths-of-a-mile section that runs from the Potomac River bridge in Maryland to its intersection with Chestnut Hill Road in Jefferson County. The shoulder on the riverside is wide enough for parked cars and pedestrians, they said.

Since the proposed power line, the Potomac Appalachian Transmission Highline (PATH), crosses all three states, the women are hoping their grassroots demonstration will draw fellow opponents from the affected states.

The power line, as proposed by a partnership between Allegheny Energy and American Electric Power, would send electricity generated by a coal-fired plant in St. Albans, W.Va., across 17 counties in the Mountain State, including southern Jefferson County, through northeast Virginia into Kemptown in Frederick County, Md., the women said.

"This is really not about our backyards or keeping our lights on. It's about getting cheaper power to New Jersey and the East Coast," Newman said. 

Wait said she is hoping that 100 people will turn out to stand along the road with protest signs.

She said protest groups have been forming in all three affected states since PATH was announced last summer.

That was when Wait and Newman, neighbors in the Leisure Hills subdivision north of Shepherdstown, took up the cause.

"Some people think we could have as many as 300 or 400 people turn out," Wait said.

"If we don't fight this, nothing will happen," Newman said.

"If we do fight it, there's a small chance we can stop it or at least shape it so it's much less destructive."

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