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Many see TECO plan as 30 miles of grief

Ferdinand Ramos doesn't want a 230,000-volt power line passing by his Valrico home. Why can't the proposed Tampa Electric Co. lines go through commercial areas or be built underground? he asked at a public hearing.

"TECO has other routes that would not impact us," he said.

Tampa Electric plans to build a 30-mile power line from Mulberry to Temple Terrace. Dozens of residents from Valrico to Thonotosassa are opposed to it because the winding route would go past their homes.

Ramos took a petition signed by about 90 homeowners in the Diamond Hill neighborhood to a public hearing last week. Residents of the development, which is south of State Road 60, are worried about their property values and health if the line is built through the middle of their gated community, as proposed.

"If it comes down to it and I have to walk away with what little equity I have at this time — at the risk of credit and security I have at this time — I will," Diamond Hill resident John I. Pollard said.

About 120 people showed up at the hearing, where about 30 people gave testimony to try to persuade an administrative judge not to approve the line. They said they understand the need for more electric lines, but they want a route through commercial areas.

When Tampa Electric filed an application in October, the company was considering several routes. One went along Martin Luther King Boulevard and U.S. 301. They set aside that idea for the rural route, which would be on land the company already owns and affect fewer people, spokesman Rick Morera said.

It's too expensive to take the commercial path, he said. The project's cost is about $70-million now, but if the power lines went through land the company doesn't own, it would cost millions more, he said.

"We're a regulated utility, and our responsibility is to provide the most cost-effective service," Morera said.

He also said it would be difficult and expensive to build on highways because telephone, sewer and water lines would interfere.

Tampa Electric will reconsider the commercial paths if the judge does not approve the rural route, Morera said.

Other residents voiced concerns about the environment and the possibility that electromagnetic waves could cause cancer. Debate about the safety of power lines has circulated since 1979, when an article in the American Journal of Epidemiology claimed a link between power lines and childhood cancer.

Last week's hearing, presided over by administrative Judge Donald R. Alexander, was the last scheduled public airing of Tampa Electric's application.

Next, Alexander will weigh in, then the state's Department of Environmental Protection, and, finally, the governor and his Cabinet.

Tampa Electric officials hope they'll have the go-ahead by early fall, Morera said.

But if they do that, several families say they'll move. One of those is Kelly Watson's.

At the hearing, Watson listed the animals on her parents' property in Dover, otters and eagles among them. She doesn't want Tampa Electric to build a power line near the oak hammock they all know as home.

Her father worries that the power line will cause health problems for her 18-year-old brother, who suffers from seizures. The proposed line would come within about 50 feet of their property.

They'll follow the advice of one of Tommy's doctors, who suggests they move. The Watsons say they love their house and the nearby forest and eagle's nest, but they won't risk an increase in the seizures.

"My son is my priority for everything," Tom Watson said.

Times staff writer Andrew Meacham contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at jvandervelde@sptimes.com or (813) 661-2443.

Many see TECO plan as 30 miles of grief 03/13/08 [Last modified: Monday, March 17, 2008 8:56pm]
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