In a crowded, noisy room nestled inside the Woodward Conference Center, citizens gathered Monday to voice their concerns regarding the Plains & Eastern Clean Line Transmission Project during a hearing held by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and Clean Line Energy Partners LLC.
Local citizens voiced concerns regarding the high voltage lines over everything from high voltage electricity and its possible impact on health to how the line would impact usable ranch land and even over how the project might impact the beauty of their property.
The proposed project is an approximate 720-mile, 600-kilovolt, overhead electric transmission line. It would transfer wind energy from the Oklahoma Panhandle, Texas and Kansas to electrical utilities in Tennessee and Arkansas. In addition to the lines, there will be additional wind energy generation facilities in 12 “wind development zones” across Oklahoma and Texas.
The public hearing is part of an ongoing series of 15 meetings in Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas inviting citizens to comment on any potential adverse environmental impacts the Clean Line project may present for the DOE’s draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS.)
The hearings are held so the DOE can meet its obligations set forth by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), a federal law requiring all federal agencies to consider the potential environmental impacts of their proposed actions.
Speaking on behalf of the DOE was Dr. Jane Summerson, an NEPA compliance officer.
Before opening up the floor for public comments, Dr. Summerson spent approximately 30 minutes outlining the basic details of the project.
Formal comments were made by 11 citizens who signed up to speak. Each had a time limit of three minutes to present their concerns or general thoughts on the proposal.
Many of the questions raised were by landowners whose property would be affected by the transmission route.
Woodward resident Margaret Benbrook was especially troubled by the possible negative health effects resulting from high-voltage transmission lines.
“This is a concern of mine because my home is fairly close to the proposed line and I have two small grandchildren that live with me,” she said. “I began to do some research and studies kept popping up that saw some correlation with transmittal frequencies and increased numbers of childhood leukemia.”
Jordy White, whose family owns the Island Guest Ranch in Ames, expressed concerns the project would have on her family’s ranch.
“The proposed route crosses right in front of our entrance,” White said. “There is no amount of recompense for the changing of our livelihood and business.”
White explained how people from other countries visit her ranch to get away from the bustling metropolitan areas they inhabit.
“People come to us six months out of the year, primarily from Western Europe, the Middle East and Southeast Asia for the chance to get away from cities and these transmission lines,” she said. “This could irrevocably change our business and beyond that, there’s the health issue.”
On the other hand, Jim Mason, director of economic development for Elk City, believes the project will boost the Oklahoma economy.
“We do think that renewable energy is very important to complement the oil and gas industry,” he stated. “It will actually create jobs during the construction of the project and will also have jobs after the project is completed, which will all have an economic impact on our communities.”
However, Harper County landowner Sue Selman argued the project wouldn’t create jobs for Oklahoma residents based on the complex nature of constructing transmission lines.
“They will have to bring in construction workers that specialize in transmission lines,” Selman said. “In the long-term, there will be very few people they will need to maintain these lines and they will bring in out of state workers, not people in Oklahoma.”
Buffalo resident Greg Adams, who is a wind power consultant at Adams Wind LLC, feels the negative impacts of the transmission line are overstated.
“While all development has some impact, the impact of not building this line will affect the country and planet,” Adams said. “I fully support this line and I fully support Clean Line and what they do.”
Written statements can be submitted to the DOE through March 19th, which is the final day of the 90-day public comment period.
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