A Houston transmission company’s announcement of plans to route a high-voltage, direct-current transmission line through Marshall County has been met with a variety of questions and concerns.
Clean Line Energy Partners held an open house at Marysville’s American Legion on Feb. 12 to present three potential routes for construction of a single transmission line through Marshall County and multiple other counties along the route.
The line, called the Grain Belt Express Clean Line, would carry power from wind farms near Dodge City to the east-central United States if the company can gain approval from the Kansas Corporation Commission in Topeka this spring.
Landowners and community members were invited to open houses all along the transmission line’s route recently to learn about project plans and provide feedback on the potential routes.
Payment for land use
During the Marysville meeting, Clean Line staff showed landowners detailed maps of potential routes, asking them to mark their land and any structures on their property on the maps. The company plans to review that information, staff said, in their consideration of a final proposed route.
The landowners were also given comment cards and asked to let Clean Line know the pros and cons of building across their land.
Diana Rivera, Clean Line project development manager, said the company is committed to compensating landowners fairly. They will offer landowners the option of an annual payment or a one-time sum.
Each compensation package will include an up-front easement payment based on the size and market value of the easement acreage required, plus an additional payment for each structure placed on the landowner’s property.
“Other payments may be made in certain circumstances, such as crop damage during construction or maintenance,” said Kelsey Rockey, public relations representative for Clean Line.
Local landowners have raised questions about transmission’s effects on their cattle, health, crops, wildlife and technological devices such as cell phones and GPS navigators.
The company references eight different scientific studies by the World Health Organization and other researchers on the effects of transmission lines on health and environment.
“A 400 kilovolt DC line did not affect crops, vegetation, or nearby wildlife; nor were the fields (electromagnetic) perceived by persons walking on the right-of-way,” states a Clean Line Energy Partners fact sheet. “No differences were found between cattle and crops raised under 500 kV DC transmission lines and those raised away from the lines.”
Mark Lawlor, director of development for Clean Line, said studies had been conducted on the effects of transmission lines on human health and none had provided any evidence of harmful health effects from living near or standing near a transmission line.
Lawlor also provided a response to anyone concerned about cell phone use near the transmission.
“Electronic devices will work around the transmission line. Cell phones will work around the transmission line,” he said. “A compass will be affected if you are standing directly underneath the transmission line because the magnetic field of the transmission line affects the compass’ ability to point towards true north, but most people don’t use compasses any more and a GPS device will work if you are standing under a transmission line.”
A farmer’s dilemma
Some local landowners support wind energy for local communities but do not want large transmission traversing their land with none of the electricity available here. The Clean Line project will not provide electricity in Kansas, but will transfer it to eastern states. To tap into that line along the route would be cost prohibitive, the company said.
Removal of structures and timber along the route are additional concerns raised by farmers.
Clean Line says farmers can continue to farm under the lines. But Axtell area dairy farmer Joe Schmitz said working with farm equipment around the transmission poles is a safety and liability concern.
He would like to hand his farm down to his children and adding even more transmission would deplete its value, he said, noting a large transmission line already runs through the area.
Nearby farmer and stockman John Broxterman likewise has concerns about the potential to allow aerial spraying on his land when more transmission could come through the area, which already has alternating-current transmission running through it.
Nancy Vogelsberg-Busch, a certified organic farmer whose land is bisected by a potential northern transmission route, would also like for her farm to stay intact so that she can give it to her children someday. She farms a few miles north of U.S. Highway 36 between Marysville and Home City.
“The shock of seeing the black line on the map crossing through the very middle of my farm was like a dagger going through my heart,” Vogelsberg-Busch said. “I wanted to throw up. I do not want it near my farm. I think of my friends and family who own land along the other proposed routes and I do not want this ugly utility line on anyone’s land.”
Her livelihood depends upon her ability to sell certified organic beef, she said, and she’s concerned that her certification status could be in jeopardy if the transmission is built on her land.
“I am limited as to where I can graze my cattle because they have to be on certified grass,” Vogelsberg-Busch said.
She is also worried about the destruction of the natural habitat of her land. Her property is certified by the National Wildlife Federation because it provides the four basic habitat elements needed for wildlife to thrive: food, water, cover and places to raise young.
“Spring Creek runs a half of a mile through my land with huge old oaks gracing the banks of the meandering flow of water,” Vogelsberg-Busch said. “I heat my house with wood, but I have never cut down a live oak tree. My 4-year-old granddaughter calls the old oaks ‘the grandpa trees.’ These 200-plus-year-old oaks demand respect. I cannot believe that anyone in their right mind could place a monetary value on those trees.”
Vogelsberg-Busch likes to invite visitors to hike a trail through her land, considering it agri-tourism.
“I can’t believe any of my beef customers who have walked the trail would want to walk under a huge transmission line,” she said.
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