Casey visits Greene, hears power line concerns

By Steve Barrett, Uniontown Herald Standard

JEFFERSON - Visitors who travel through the rolling hills of Greene County may find themselves enamored with the rural tranquility.

But one typically tranquil farmland in Jefferson was buzzing with excitement Wednesday morning when U.S. Sen. Robert Casey, D-Pa., met with local officials and residents to discuss concerns regarding Allegheny Energy's proposed 240-mile, $820 million, 500-kilovolt Trans-Allegheny Interstate Line (TrAIL).

Allegheny Energy filed an application to the state Public Utility Commission in April seeking approval to construct the high-voltage line, which, if approved, would be built through Greene and Washington counties.

The proposed line would consist of a 37-mile stretch that would flow electricity from a "502 Junction" substation that would be built in Mount Morris and connect to a new "Prexy" substation in Washington County.

The proposed line has been met with a great deal of opposition from local, state and federal officials, members of two grassroots organizations - Energy Conservation Council of Pennsylvania (ECCP) and "Stop The Towers" - and other area residents. All of the groups have expressed concerns regarding the proposed line's impact on residents' health and property values, as well as the environment.

Greene County Commissioners Pam Snyder and Dave Coder, who also have voiced their opposition to the proposed line, said they had previously invited Casey to visit Greene County to meet with property owners who would be impacted by the power line.

Casey accepted the invitation Wednesday, visiting a farm owned by Kevin and Joy Eggleston on Center School Road in Jefferson. Casey toured the property and talked with several residents and officials who voiced their concerns.

The Egglestons told Casey a tower would be erected on their property close to their home if the line was approved, and they expressed concerns about the potential health risks that the tower could cause to their children.

"It was always my dream to live here, to raise my family here," said Joy Eggleston. "But we were here for one week (when they learned of the TrAIL proposal) when our American dream turned into an American nightmare."

Duann Vanderslice, co-owner of Thistlethwaite Vineyards, said she is concerned that the power line would negatively impact her business and other area agricultural businesses.

The vineyard, which is located near Eggleston's farm, consists of 3,000 vines that have been planted on 5 acres. Vanderslice said she intended to plant more vines in the future, but the building of a tower has her worried about the future of her business.

"Once a tower goes up, the process (of maintaining the vineyards) would be futile because of the herbicides and pesticides that would be sprayed around the tower," she said.

Wil Burns, an attorney who represents ECCP, shared information with Casey, detailing concerns regarding air pollution, higher electric rates, health effects and global warming.

Casey's visit also came just one week after the U.S. Department of Energy's designated a National Interest Electric Transmission Corridor (NIETC) that will be built through 50 of the state's 67 counties, including Greene and Washington counties.

The DOE announced on Oct. 2 the designation of two corridors, the Mid-Atlantic NIETC and Southwest Area NIETC. The designation means consumers in both regions are being negatively affected by electrical transmission congestion.

Casey said Wednesday he has written letters to U.S. Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman expressing his opposition to the DOE's final decision to build the NIETC through the state. Numerous other officials, including state Rep. H. Williams DeWeese, D-Waynesburg, also have written letters of opposition.

Casey said his visit to Greene County gave him a better perspective of the residents' concerns about the proposed line.

"I now have a better sense of how the issues addressed today impact these people's lives and their future," he said. "This will be a long, tough fight, but we are going to keep fighting."

Following Casey's visit, Robbie Matesic, an ECCP representative who also serves as executive director for Greene County's Department of Economic Development, announced that an informational rally for concerned residents will be held today.

The rally will be held at 7 p.m. at the Lone Pine Social Hall in Washington. Residents from Greene and Washington counties who may be impacted by the power line are encouraged to attend, Matesic said.

"If you or any of your neighbors believe they will be affected by the TrAIL but have not yet received any information from Allegheny Power or the PUC, we ask you to please join the ECCP and Stop The Towers for this rally," she said.

Representatives from ECCP and Stop the Towers will be on hand to provide information regarding the proposed power line, including updates on last week's NIETC designation ruling by the DOE.

Meanwhile, ECCP representatives also announced Wednesday that a Washington attorney will today file a lawsuit against Allegheny Energy on behalf of Washington County residents.

According to a press release issued Wednesday by the ECCP, the suit - which will be filed by attorney Richard DiSalle - will call into question the legality of rights-of-way being referenced by Allegheny Energy's proposed power lines, and also will address "concerns about the scope, location and abnormality of the rights-of-way."

The suit also will raise the issue that these decades-old rights-of-way were abandoned by Allegheny Power years ago, the press release stated.

DiSalle will explain the details of the filing during a press conference at 11 a.m. today at his law firm's office in Washington. Following the press conference, DiSalle will formally file the lawsuit in the prothonotary's office of Washington County.