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Lowell wind: three oppose power line easements

State regulators will hear the cases of three landowners opposing easements for transmission line upgrades for Green Mountain Power and Vermont Electric Cooperative.

The easements are part of the upgrade approved by VEC members in July, which will in part carry electricity generated by the Lowell wind project.

The $12 million upgrade will also improve the redundancy of the line serving the Jay Peak area, where demand is expected to grow in the next decade.

The Vermont Public Service Board will hear the arguments at “condemnation” hearings this winter.

GMP and VEC needed new easements or easement updates on 116 properties to complete the 16.9-mile-transmission line. Most reached financial settlements with the utilities.

The utilities led by GMP bought easements from the landowners for the upgrades based on fair market values of the properties in question.

Some landowners opposed the easements because they might lose trees that screen the power line. Others were opposed to the wind project.

As of Monday, only three cases remain unresolved and were heading for formal condemnation hearings.

In one case that will be heard by the board in January, property owner Debra Bevins told the board’s hearing officer that she is worried that the easement would hurt her ability to sell her house and land in Westfield.

The hearing officer, Lars Bang-Jensen, said in an order issued Oct. 12, that the potential impairment to the value of the property would be a topic for further discovery during the pre-hearing process.

The utilities want to buy the rights to have the power lines on the property, which includes clearing trees from the land below and around the lines.

Such taking of property rights is allowed under Title 30 in the Vermont statutes, said Vicki Brown, general counsel for VEC.

In the case where landowners do not want to settle directly with the utility seeking easements, the utility has the right to file a petition with the Public Service Board to “condemn an easement,” Brown said.

It’s a type of taking of some property rights through eminent domain, she said.

The utilities have to prove in condemnation hearings and testimony that the easements are essential to provide electricity, she said.

“It’s a pretty high standard,” she said. “Utilities see it as an absolute last resort.”

GMP filed 12 petitions for condemnation in the case of the VEC transmission line upgrade, Brown said.

Of those, nine reached agreements earlier this summer or fall and only the three cases are left, said GMP spokeswoman Dorothy Schnure.

The upgrade work will continue while the condemnation hearings continue. The utilities expect that the board will issue orders about the three cases in time next spring for the work to be completed next summer.

Meanwhile, work is ongoing on the upgrade. Motorists on Route 100 in the Lowell-Westfield area and on 105 in Jay have seen tree clearing, line work and equipment on the move.

A new substation across from the Lowell Graded School has been under construction, as is the substation off Route 242 in Jay.

VEC has taken up part of the lot at Degree Auction House in Westfield for a staging area for equipment and supplies.

The project is paid for in part by GMP, which is covering 58 percent of the costs.

Operating costs of the transmission line will be shared by the utilities for 25 years as part of the Lowell wind project.