The Public Service Commission will hold a mediation conference Tuesday on the New York Regional Interconnect’s controversial application to create a high voltage transmission line between Oneida and Orange counties.
The initial conference will establish a schedule of hearings and, according to the PSC, is “intended to discuss and clarify the proposals tendered on January, 8, 2007 by New York Regional Interconnect.” The PSC plans to take into account “routing alternatives, visual impact analysis, and threatened and endangered species.”
NYRI’s proposal has met with strong opposition in the past, both from lawmakers, Upstate residents and grassroots organizations. Opponents say NYRI transmission lines would cause both economic and environmental impact along the proposed route.
Anti-NYRI groups, such as StopNYRI Inc., argue that NYRI’s statement that the vast majority of the line will use existing government rights-of-way along railway corridors is false, stating that the proposed 80- to 130- foot-tall transmission towers would significantly widen the existing rights-of-way, necessitating further use of eminent domain to obtain the needed space.
The groups also cite studies which claim that the electro-magnetic field created by the lines increase the risk of cancer among those in surrounding communities.
Bill May, a project manager at NYRI, said these objections are unfounded. “We think it’s quite the opposite,” said May. “NYRI has a whole host of benefits for the entire state.” Two of the proposed benefits are a boost to the depressed Upstate economy, and helping promote environmentally friendly energy production, such as wind farms, due to the capacity for “increased transmission for renewable [energy],” May said.
In addition to grassroots organizations, many local and state politicians have spoken out against the power line project.
Last October, Gov. George E. Pataki signed legislation designed specifically to bar NYRI from using eminent domain, effectively banning the project, though the constitutionality of the legislation has been disputed.
State Sen. John Bonacic, R,I,C-Mount Hope, has been an outspoken opponent to NYRI’s project and was the sponsor of this legislation in the Senate. In regard to the continued efforts of the company to have their Public Service Commission application approved, Bonacic said he was “surprised that NYRI keeps hitting its head against the wall, because it’s been deprived of eminent domain,” and that while the legislation “can be pre-empted by the federal government,” he does not expect it.
The federal government could pre-empt this legislation by declaring NYRI a National Interest Electric Transmission corridor, under the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which would enable the use of eminent domain to obtain the necessary land.
Local political opposition includes Mayor Timothy Julian of Utica, who said “this proposed project is detrimental to our environment, our economy and our overall health. The public needs to be informed of what will really happen if the federal and state government allows this project to proceed.”
In regard to the upcoming meeting, May said NYRI is “at the ready to provide additional information” on the potential impacts of the project.
By Roy Kilkeary
Legislative Gazette Staff Writer
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