MUSKOGEE, Okla. – The U.S. Department of Energy hosted a meeting Feb. 2 to provide information and listen to public comments about a proposed transmission power line that would stretch from western Oklahoma near Guymon to near Memphis, Tennessee.
The Plains & Eastern Clean Line project would transport electricity generated by wind turbines in Oklahoma for use in the country’s southeastern region. If built, the line would have lattice structure towers 120 to 200 feet tall and would require 150-to-200-foot wide easements from landowners along the route.
Residents from Sequoyah and Muskogee counties voiced their opinions about the project with many speaking against it because they said it would decrease property values and affect quality of life.
Cherokee Nation citizen Garland Farris read a statement opposing the line because it would cross land allotted to his grandmother and great-grandmother by the government. He said his father improved the land, and after he served in the military, he came home to help his father improve and maintain the land located about 2 miles north of Sallisaw.
“The way the current transmission line is shown, there will be three to four of those massively tall towers going across this property, the full length of my ancestral land, which would not improve the value at all,” Farris said. “The destruction from the line goes further than the destruction of my ancestor’s land. It also desecrates the land that is sacred to the Cherokee. Our property has two historic routes. To the south lays the old Military Road, which was a 19th century military supply road that was the main route between old Fort Smith and to Fort Gibson. A few miles north of the Military Road is the trail the Cherokee hold sacred, and it has been marked east to west as the Trail of Tears.”
He said the towers would be placed on the “sacred trail.”
Darryl Phillips of Sallisaw spoke favorably of the line, comparing it to projects that he said have benefitted the nation.
“All through the history of the country we’ve had progress – sometimes good, sometimes not so good. One of the big ones was the railroad. As we moved the railroads west it went across people’s property…but it served us well. We built the West. We built Oklahoma,” he said. “Later on we built the interstates, and the exact same thing happened. People objected and said ‘don’t put it in my backyard;’ ‘it’s going to cut my ranch in half;’ ‘it’s going to cut off my farm,’ but we put in the interstates.”
He said the U.S. does not have high-speed passenger trains such as those in Europe because landowners are unwilling to give up land for railways.
“I believe that we need the energy. I believe when we have something exported out of Oklahoma the money flows back to Oklahoma,” Phillips said.
P&ECL Executive Vice President Mario Hurtado, who is in charge of the line’s development, said there is more support for the line in western Oklahoma because people there would directly benefit from it through its construction and other services. He said the concerns heard at the Muskogee meeting such as loss of land and how the land for the line will be taken, either through acquisition or eminent domain, have been heard at previous meetings.
“We’ve done a lot of outreach to communities. We’ve spent time in Sallisaw and other areas, so we have heard many of these comments, and we take the concerns that we hear really seriously, and we want to be able to figure out how where can make the project better,” Hurtado said. “We understand people have strong feelings about their property.”
He said P&ECL’s focus is on voluntary acquisition of easements from landowners. However, Hurtado said landowners continue to raise the eminent domain subject because linear lines or projects such as railroads need to have the ability to be completed.
“If you can’t find a landowner or you can’t clear title or you can’t buy a parcel and you can’t go around it, that’s what condemnation is for – for projects that have been found to be in the public interest,” he said. “We’re very much focused on working on voluntary terms with landowners. That’s why we put forward an economic package that we think is attractive. Obviously, there are folks that may or not agree with that, and we’re going to do our best to work with folks and be respectful of property rights. This is still in draft form, so that’s why there’s comments.”
Jane Summerson, DOE document manager for the Plains & Eastern Environmental Impact Statement, attended the meeting to listen to residents’ statements and ensure they were recorded. She is also “evaluating potential environmental impacts” for the project.
“The department is considering whether or not to participate, and before a federal agency takes major action that could impact the environment significantly, we are required by law to evaluate those environmental impacts. That’s my job,” Summerson said. “If the DOE does not choose to participate then the line is not built.”
She said the 15 public meetings slated from Jan. 26 to Feb. 19 were to inform the public about the project because there are similar projects in the region with similar names and concepts but with different details.
“We want to be sure people understand exactly what this project is, and then even more important this is to get input from the public. We want to hear the public’s comments on the draft Environmental Impact Statement, the environmental impacts that we have identified, the project itself and environmental protection measures.
We very much want to hear about adverse potential impacts to historic properties,” she said.
Summerson said the DOE would publish the project’s final EIS in the fall. Once published, the DOE would publish its decision whether to partake in the project.
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