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AKINS, Okla. – Landowner Daron Harrison prefers not having “preferred” status when there’s a possibility that 120-to-200-foot electricity towers may tower over his home in Sequoyah County.
The Akins resident’s land is on the “preferred route” for the Plains & Eastern Clean Line that would stretch east to west across the county. He said he’s in the fight of his life with other landowners working to prevent the line from being built.
Harrison said the proposed line would be 500 feet north of his home and less than 200 feet from his mother’s home and that it would cut through his pasture and force the removal of cattle corrals.
For Cherokee Nation citizens Dan HorseChief and his mother Mary Adair, who live about 2 miles north of Sallisaw in Badger Lee, the approximately 750-mile power line that would deliver wind energy generated by windmills from western Oklahoma to eastern Tennessee would force the removal of a wood line south of their home and would be about 100 yards south of the home.
“You know this (land) is near and dear. This is what we ended up with when we came west. They say some of these trees came from Georgia, so it’s near and dear to people, and for a private business like this to come through and just say this is the way it’s going to happen is insulting to me,” HorseChief said. “I’m for clean energy. If it was a well-thought-out project, sure, but I don’t think this is a well-thought-out project. It’s a step backward.”
HorseChief questions why the line cannot be buried instead of using towers.
“I was pretty excited about wind energy being put forward until I started looking at the details. To me the idea of a ‘clean line,’ it’s a great idea…but with Clean Line they are not sincere in their approach with green energy and renewable energy. In a way they are sort of hijacking that concept, and they’re delivering it in a way that’s not green at all,” he said. “The 200-foot tower idea, to me, is really an outmoded idea that we need to move from instead of re-embracing. It’s not necessary. This is something that private investors have put forward simply as a way to jump on the wagon of clean energy and make money before anybody else does.”
Executive Vice President of Clean Line Energy Mario Hurtado, who is in charge of the line’s development, has said the project is “a major economic development opportunity for Oklahoma” because of wind speeds in western Oklahoma.
However, residents in eastern Oklahoma are wary of giving up their lands for the project. Akins resident Steve MacDonald said if built the line would cut in half his 40 acres about 3 miles northeast of Sallisaw, and the towers would be about 75 yards north of his home.
“No one in Sequoyah County or Arkansas is going to benefit from the wind energy that they propose to transmit across their line,” MacDonald said. “It’s going to restrict the place I live on and cut off the 20 acres to the north, making it useless. No one is going to want to buy that property. I figure it’s going to devalue my property by at least 40 percent.”
MacDonald said his main concern is how the federal government is considering partnering with a private company that may use eminent domain to take lands to build the line for profit. Eminent domain has been used before for public projects such as highways, railways and public utilities, but MacDonald said this project is for private profit.
Harrison said his parents purchased the land he lives on in 2004. After his father died in 2011, he built a house next to his mother’s home and raises cattle on the land.
In April, a Clean Line representative came to his house seeking permission to search for “beetles, bats and bald eagles.” When Harrison refused to allow access to his land, he said it was then the representative used the words “eminent domain” and told Harrison he would have to give up his land for the line.
At a Feb. 2 meeting in Muskogee, Hurtado said Clean Line is focused on voluntary acquisition of easements from landowners. However, he did not rule out using eminent domain because he said there needs to be a way to complete projects such as the power line when voluntary easements cannot be obtained.
Harrison said another concern is that he was “totally unaware” of the scoping period done by Clean Line in 2012 and 2013, as were many of his neighbors though Clean Line and Hurtado claim it publicized the scoping period.
The National Environmental Policy Act calls for public scoping periods for major projects to ensure that the environmental consequences of federal decisions are known and available to the public before decisions are made and actions are undertaken.
“We received nothing in the mail. Nobody contacted us personally. We knew absolutely nothing about this project until 2014, and then when we found out about it. I kind of felt ambushed because they were pretty far ahead in the ballgame,” he said. “And we’ve had some people that represents them to tell us that ‘this is a done deal’ and ‘it’s going to go through.’ We’ve learned it’s far from being a done deal.”
Harrison said he and his neighbor MacDonald see others in Sequoyah County on a weekly basis who are “absolutely unaware” that the line may be built through or near their properties.
“There are several, several landowners that we have come across that know absolutely nothing of this project. They are just heartbroken and outraged when we do tell them,” Harrison said.
Harrison said he finally received notice in his mail on Dec. 12 after the project’s Environmental Impact Study was released, telling him that his property could be affected by the project.
For him and the other landowners who would have to give up 200 feet of right-of-way for the line, Harrison said he does not know of one landowner who is willing to give up land or settle with Clean Line. He said he and MacDonald spend nearly all of their spare time traveling Sequoyah County informing people about the proposed line and inviting them to join their efforts to stop it.
“This is not about money to us. All we have is our land. This property was deeded to me after my dad passed away. There’s a lot of sentimental value there. We don’t look at it as maybe someday we’ll sell out and move to town. It was handed down to us. I have two children, and I will hand it down to them as well when the time comes,” Harrison said. “We’re not against green energy. What I am against is the way they went about this project. This project has been in the process since 2009 and it’s 2015 now, and I found out in April 2014. The more that you dig into this, the shadier it gets.”
To read the project’s EIS, visit http://plainsandeasterneis.com/draft-eis. The Department of Energy has also extended the comment period for the EIS from March 19 to April 20. For more information, visit http://www.plainsandeasterneis.com.
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