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Power line could have big impact on environment

CUMBERLAND — Although a power transmission line planned to run through the area could have significant environmental impacts in remote forest land, two state officials have recommended the Public Service Commission grant the required certificate necessary for the project. The state officials say mitigation efforts planned by Big Savage LLC and a donation by the company to help rehabilitate Jennings Run factored into their recommendations.

An evidentiary hearing on the request has been set for today at 11 a.m. at the Cumberland Holiday Inn at 100 S. George St. An additional hearing for public comment will take place at 7 p.m. The morning evidentiary hearing is a quasi-judicial proceeding, and while it is open to the public, public comments are not taken during that proceeding.

Allegany County commissioners voted last week to grant an easement for the power transmission line, which will run under a portion of the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad and other county-owned property. The Public Service Commission must also approve the project.

Commissioners declined an invitation by PSC hearing examiner David Moore to sit jointly with him to hear the case as provided by state law.

The line is owned by Big Savage LLC. The area where the line would pass under the two parallel routes is near state Route 36 and Spataro Lane. The line will also run above the ground for about 7 miles in Frostburg and Allegany County. Big Savage LLC is a subsidiary of EverPower Wind LLC, a Delaware company. The line is capable of carrying in excess of 69,000 volts, said Craig Taborsky, a PSC engineer, in testimony already filed in the case. He recommended granting the permit, subject to approval by other state agencies.

Big Savage will pay the county $20,000 every 10 years for the easement.

Testimony already filed in the case discusses the potential environmental impacts of the project.

“The applicant noted that constructing the proposed project would result in habitat alteration or loss and displacement of wildlife resulting from clearing its 80-acre right of way,” said Niles Primrose of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, in his testimony. The impact will also include the permanent loss of 65 acres of vegetation, most of which is hardwood forest. The project will cross four streams, including Jennings Run. No state or federal rare or endangered species are within the project site, Primrose said.

Primrose said his DNR department also recommended granting the application.

Among the mitigation efforts planned by Big Savage LLC is a “substantial monetary donation” aimed to help facilitate the restoration of Jennings Run, said Michael Speerschneider, who discussed the mitigation efforts in PSC testimony. Additional mitigation efforts planned are avoiding placing poles in streams and wetlands, maintaining a vegetated buffer along stream corridors and plantings to replace some of the impacted woodlands.

The line would originate at the company’s Pennsylvania wind farm in Somerset County. The tree line will make most of the above-ground line invisible, company officials said.

“The Qualified Line will be comprised of overhead single circuit conductors mounted on approximately 62 pole structures, mostly wooden monopoles, along with a small number of steel or concrete structures where necessary. The single poles, on average, will be 75 feet above ground,” Big Savage wrote in its PSC application.

If all goes well, the project is expected to begin later this year and be complete by Oct. 31, 2012, according to PSC records.

Documents in the case can be viewed at the PSC website by searching for case number 9268. http://webapp.psc.state.md.us/Intranet/home.cfm.