LITHIA — State Rep. Rachel Burgin said she wanted to hear from residents about TECO Energy's plan to run high-voltage transmission lines through FishHawk Ranch.
The Riverview Republican got an earful Thursday night from more than 250 residents.
At a town hall meeting organized by Burgin's office, residents from the FishHawk and Channing Park neighborhoods assailed the project, complaining about possible health risks associated with high-voltage power lines as well as the impact they might pose on neighborhood ambience.
"This is David and Goliath. It absolutely is," FishHawk resident Roger Rush said, alluding to TECO "Because I don't think they care a rat's rear end about us. They're going ahead with it and this (meeting) is all nonsense to them. They don't care. If they cared, they'd be here."
Almost half of the meeting's attendees said they lived in Channing Park, which sits along the project's expected route just southeast of FishHawk Ranch.
So many attended the meeting at the Palmetto Club at 17004 Dorman Road that it had to be moved to a larger conference room.
Many brought children and held multicolored signs saying, "Stop TECO" and "Stop power lines now." Some, hoping to learn more, said they stopped by after work. Others, such as Charles Van Auken of FishHawk, said they took the day off to ensure their voices would be heard.
Van Auken said his home backs up to the project area.
"When we bought our house we were told nothing about this," Van Auken said. "We were told only that there was a 200-foot buffer behind our house. That's it."
The meeting ran about two hours. Before the residents got their turn to complain and pose questions, FishHawk residents Christie and Jason VanVleet explained the project and its history.
The two said they've scoured public records in recent weeks to learn when TECO acquired two easements linked to the project.
One of those easements, they said, was provided in 2003 by Newland Communities, FishHawk Ranch's developer, which, combined with the other easement, would provide enough land to build the transmission lines.
Rick Harcrow, a senior vice president at Newland, told the crowd he wasn't part of the San Diego-based developer's granting of that easement, but he stressed the company wants to help now and is trying to convince TECO to move the lines.
"We are aligned with you in that we would like for these power lines to go away," he told the residents.
"I'm worried about my kids," Melissa Sheedy, a FishHawk mother of two, said after the meeting. "My kids play out there every day. How is this going to affect them?"
Burgin said she and state Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Valrico, will offer help to residents who want to file formal complaints against the plan with regulators.
"I want the residents to have an opportunity for their voices to be heard," Burgin said.
TECO has said the project is part of a larger expansion that would require approval from the state's Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities, and, possibly, the Department of Environmental Protection.
The company is still evaluating options and said that instead of expanding it might buy the energy it requires.
If the company proceeds with the expansion, it would file a plan with regulators in August. Hearings by the PSC would begin a month or two after that.
Audie Canney, an aide to Storms, said she would request the PSC to hold its hearings locally.
Rich Shopes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.