SPRING HILL — Hundreds of Hernando County residents packed a Progress Energy open house Monday afternoon hoping to learn more about how they could be affected by a proposed power transmission line project.
The gathering was the first of two informational sessions the utility will have in Hernando County, with the second today from 3 to 7 p.m. at Silverthorn Country Club.
The sessions provide residents the opportunity to look at maps and ask questions of company representatives. They follow others that have been held in Pasco, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.
"This is the biggest crowd we've had," said Progress Energy spokeswoman Cherie Jacobs, looking at a line that snaked out of the ballroom at the Silverthorn County Clubhouse and into the jammed parking lot Monday.
Crowds lingered around stations set up throughout the room, as people pointed at highlighted maps and computer screens.
Progress Energy plans to expand its transmission capability through 10 Florida counties, from Levy to Polk. The 200 miles of lines would carry high-voltage electricity from a proposed nuclear plant in Levy County and from the company's complex in Crystal River.
Nearly 23,000 Hernando residents recently received letters from the company notifying them of the project and of the open houses.
Preliminary plans in Hernando call for using the existing routes that cut through heavily populated Spring Hill, or running new lines along the Suncoast Parkway. New lines could also go up along Citrus Way in the northern part of the county.
If the company chooses to construct new lines, it would need a strip up to 250 feet to build them. When it comes to existing lines, the amount of land needed for such a project is unclear.
In those cases, the company has said that sometimes additional rights of way are needed, and sometimes they are not.
Manuel and Lucy Fernandez stood in line for a half hour with other residents on Monday to have their address entered into a computer to show how close their home is to one of the proposed transmission areas. They received their letter in the mail from the company on Friday.
The couple lives in the Woodland Waters subdivision off U.S. 19, close to one of the existing power line paths. They found out they were 175 feet from where the proposed power line right of way begins.
Along with fears of property devaluation if the company chooses to expand the lines near their home, they were also concerned about possible health effects of living even closer to the power lines.
"I can understand that we need energy," Manuel Fernandez said. "But what I don't understand is why I saved all of my money from years of working in the military, in the New York City Police Department when this could happen. I saved everything I worked for."
Hernando County Commissioner Diane Rowden showed up at Monday's event, irked that the company didn't approach the commission about the proposed project before holding the informational sessions.
"I didn't start hearing about this until this weekend," Rowden said. "It would have been nice to make a presentation to the County Commission that might have relieved a lot of anxiety and fear about what's going on. But instead, they've created chaos here with not enough parking."
Construction is to begin in 2012 with the approval of state agencies, and completion is expected in 2016.
The lines are being planned in three main segments: from the proposed nuclear plant in Levy County to the Leesburg area in Lake County; from Levy County south to Hernando County and potentially into Pasco and Pinellas counties; and from Tarpon Springs to Kathleen in Polk County.
Chandra Broadwater can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or (352) 848-1432.