South Carolina Environmental Law Project

Lawyers for the Wild Side of South Carolina

Neighbors claim abuse of power
October 1st, 2004

By Jason Lesley

TIMES MANAGING EDITOR

Citizens gathered at a public hearing at Browns Ferry Elementary School Tuesday called South Carolina’s Central Electric Power Cooperative an arrogant government agency that has used intimidation and half-truths to secure rights-of-way for an 11-mile, 115,000-volt transmission line.

Central is a generation and transmission cooperative that is a wholesale power supplier to 16 South Carolina cooperatives. It does not serve retail consumers.

State Sen. Yancey McGill asked representatives of Central Electric to meet with the people of the communities along the Black River in western Georgetown County who would be affected by the transmission line. Central Electric refused.

McGill then requested a public hearing by the Office of Coastal and Resource Management for Central Electric’s permit to cross the Black River. He and Rep. Bubber Snow attended Tuesday’s meeting, and McGill said the residents supported the transmission line, “but they want it in the right location.”

Tuesday’s hearing provided the first opportunity for citizens to publicly vent their frustration with the Columbia-based electric cooperative, and they let it rip. Some accused the agency of violating its own promise to the Department of Agriculture Rural Utilities Service to examine feasible alternatives to avoid major streams, rivers and aquatic locations with high potential for significant cultural resources. Others were far more blunt with their criticism.

Central Electric did not return calls to the Times Thursday.

According to neighbors, the proposed power line will cross Lane’s Creek and the Black River, run through a prehistoric Native American campsite that has significant historical interest and degrade the remaining three miles of the century-old Kilsock Tramway bed built around 1900 by Atlantic Coast Lumber from Browns Ferry to Georgetown to haul trees to its sawmill. The agency has already removed a stand of old-growth longleaf pine from the right-of-way.

Central Electric told residents that following an existing power line right-of-way would be circuitous. A map submitted with one of Central Electric’s requests for permission to build the power line does not show the Black River. Michael Hyrowski of Candlewood Drive has accused the co-op of erasing the river from the map to gain quicker approval. Brad Jackson of the Rural Utilities Service said he was unaware of any river crossing in the proposed route.

“They could go down Johnson Road to their 240-k station,” Hyrowski said. “They say it takes them a little bit out of their way. This is nothing more than a shortcut to avoid their environmental responsibility.” Hyrowski has been the leader of the community’s opposition to the power line for months.

He has copies of letters from the U.S. Department of the Interior to Central Electric recommending alternative routes and the S.C. Department of Archives and History requesting information about the tramway line omitted from a cultural resources report submitted for the project. Hyrowski wrote U.S. Sen. Lindsay Graham and quoted Central Electric’s environmental report in an application for a federal loan. It says: ‘In the preliminary sitting of the project, care will be taken to avoid, to the maximum extent practicable, major streams, rivers and aquatic locations which are usually high potential areas for discovery of significant cultural resources. Central Electric Power Cooperative commits to examining all feasible project alternatives such as ‘no action,’ conservation, alternative delivery routes and alternative methods of construction.”

Hyrowski says Central Electric must have written the environmental pledge on “opposite day.” Central Electric’s application to the Army Corps of Engineers contained a survey on endangered species and wetlands. Dr. L.L. Gaddy was hired to do the survey. His report contained data on the area’s 32 wetlands. However, the survey was done in January and February of 2003, a time specified by Central Electric. U.S. Fish and Wildlife regulations say such surveys must be done in the flowering and fruiting period(s) of the species.

It was no surprise to Hyrowski that Gaddy found no adverse effect to threatened or endangered species.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife strongly recommended that Central Electric use existing roads and/or existing transmission lines as potential routes for the proposed transmission lines to minimize environmental impact.

“Central Electric has taken advantage of the fact that there are no zoning laws in rural Georgetown County,” Hyrowski says. “They basically drew a line on a map trying to find the shortest path of least resistance then approved their own project without any oversight from any government body or public input. Along the way, Central Electric has violated or ignored state and federal policies, regulations and guidelines. They have filed incomplete applications to federal and state agencies. They have denied a request to meet with local property owners, and they have gone against their own environmental statement.” Hamp Shuping, the Waccamaw Riverkeeper, asked the OCRM panel Tuesday to deny the permits for Central Electric to construct the power line. “I call for OCRM to ignore the pressure that will certainly be applied by Central Electric Cooperative when they state that they have already invested a great deal of time and money in this project, and that they will face great hardship if denied. If this happens, they need to be reminded that they brought the hardship on themselves by blatantly ignoring regulations and the concerns of the public. Do not give in to this pressure.”

Diane Fox of Valleydale Road on the Black River asked, “Is Central Electric so powerful it can do as it pleases? This is not supposed to be a rich man’s world. Who is profiting by a new line?”

Monty Nexson, one of the property owners who agreed to negotiate an easement with Central Electric after being threatened with condemnation through eminent domain, regrets signing over his property now. (Eminent domain the government act of converting privately owned land into public land, subject to reasonable compensation.)

“Lane’s Creek is pristine, quiet, unspoiled,” he said. “A power line crossing the creek is going to destroy it. I was involved with granting some of the right-of-way for the power line. They didn’t have the permits, but we assumed they had. This has been a violation of public trust.”

Some other residents of the area have told Hyrowski they thought they were helping their neighbors get better electrical service by agreeing to the easements. These lines will provide no residential service. They link the substations at Rhems and Dunbar with substations in Williamsburg County. “Now they don’t know what they signed,” he says.

Jimmy Chandler of the S.C. Environmental Law Project of Georgetown, said he was proud of the citizens at Tuesday’s hearing. “I’ve been coming to these hearings for 25 years, and it never fails to make me proud to see people come out and speak up for our rivers, creeks and land,” he said. “We want government agencies to serve the public. We want government agencies that are not arrogant. This agency would not meet with the citizens at the request of a state senator. OCRM has responded to protect our resources. Central must obey the law. This represents a lot more than just a power line.”

©Georgetown Times 2004

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