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Hernando residents oppose high-voltage Progress Energy power lines

BROOKSVILLE — When the problem is in your own backyard, you might do more research. You might ask more questions and show up at more meetings.

You might be more worried.

Last spring, when Progress Energy Florida announced plans to run new high-voltage power lines through 10 counties in west-central Florida, residents showed up at the utility's informational meetings in droves.

Questions were answered, and, for some, fears were quieted.

But other people worried about safety or logistics, especially if the plans brought the power lines close to their home. Those residents got another chance to express their concerns this week as the state Department of Environmental Protection held certification hearings in the affected counties.

Stuart Dausch was one of the residents at the hearing at the Brooksville Elks Lodge on Cortez Boulevard. He and his wife have operated Allstar Awards & Trophies out of a leased building on Sunshine Grove Road for nearly 20 years and now they worry how their business might be affected by the utility's plans.

"That's all my wife and I have in the world," he said. "It sustains us. We don't get rich on it."

Last year, Progress proposed a route for 200 miles of new transmission lines it intends to erect in the coming years. At a cost of $3 billion, the transmission corridor will carry high-voltage lines from the energy complex in Crystal River and a $14 billion planned nuclear complex in Levy County all the way to Polk County.

In Hernando, the corridor would follow existing routes that run parallel to the Suncoast Parkway, save for a small stretch north of Brookridge. Residents of the area north of State Road 50 and near the utility's Brookridge substation could be affected by the construction of an east-west corridor.

The borders roughly consist of Sweet Gum Road to the south, Hexam Road to the north, Sunshine Grove Road to the east and Blanks Street to the west.

The company has said the new lines could require a strip up to 250 feet to build, but the amount of land needed is unclear.

During last spring's town hall style meetings, many homeowners said Progress should concentrate on areas with the fewest homeowners and when possible, use existing rights-of-way for transmission lines. Officials at Progress Energy agreed.

On Wednesday, some homeowners along Sunshine Grove Road expressed concern about the collocation of gas pipelines and transmission lines in that area.

The current pipeline is from 1994. Plans call for an additional gas line to be added and the transmission lines to be upgraded.

It's the digging for the new gas pipeline and the 15-year-old pipe already in the ground that concerns resident Kathy Hendrickson. It's the new poles that would be pounded deep into the earth that keep her up at night.

She has collected a stack of articles from industry sources including Pipeline & Gas Journal and Safe Engineering Services & Technologies.

Hendrickson cited articles that state "the presence of the pipeline will cause the tower to inject more current into the ground," and "joint use allows the induced AC phenomena to occur and may create electrical hazards."

"I'm trying to avert a catastrophe," she said.

Hendrickson added that Progress Energy could not follow its own guidelines in the cramped Sunshine Grove Road corridor.

Gail Simpson, manager of public policy for Progress Energy, disagreed.

"We're following all laws and guidelines," she said. "They are a little more stringent than state and federal codes that applies to collocation."

"We had a bunch of people out there with tape measures," said homeowner George Dion. "We don't see where there's enough room for those poles on the west side. They're going to have to be working over the gas lines."

Three public schools sit just over two miles from Dion's home. During the day, about 4,600 students must travel Sunshine Grove Road to get to and from the schools, he added.

"If there's an explosion, the school has absolutely no escape route," said Dion's wife, Laurentia.

Ken Hill, director of maintenance for Hernando County Schools, looked over the site Wednesday morning. At the hearing, he requested an evacuation plan in the event of an emergency.

Progress Energy will determine the exact route of the lines and the pole locations at a later date. Right-of-way acquisition is expected to begin this year, with construction starting in 2012.

"Nobody understands what's happening better than someone who has it going through their backyard," said DEP attorney Doug Beason during a recess.

Felipe Guacache lives 300 feet from the pipeline and right-of-way. He requested that the gas company and Progress Energy coordinate efforts during the upcoming work.

"My family members' and my neighbors' lives depend on it," he said.

Information from Times files was used in this report.

Hernando residents oppose high-voltage Progress Energy power lines 03/12/09 [Last modified: Thursday, March 12, 2009 8:14pm]
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