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Concerns raised over transmission line project

In a meeting with representatives from Southern Cross Transmission, North District Public Service Commissioner Brandon Presley told the representatives Thursday the company must meet one-on-one with landowners concerned about the company’s utility line project.

Southern Cross Transmission held an open house in West Point on June 30 to address landowners’ questions regarding the proposed project. Many of the property owners who attended the meeting left with more questions, Presley said.

Southern Cross Transmission, a subsidiary of Pattern Development, is in the planning stages of a 400-mile, 500 kilovolt wind transmission line from west Louisiana to east Mississippi. The company has proposed several different routes for the $700 million project, many of which pass through the Golden Triangle.

Some of the property owners who may be affected by the proposed project said they are skeptical about the plans put forth so far.

Jim and Bobbie Vaughn own land off Highway 12 in Steens where they raise cattle. One of the proposed routes cuts across their property. Some of the land has been in Jim Vaughn’s family for 150 years, they said, and they want to pass it on to their children. They are concerned about how Southern Cross’ project will change the land and affect their cattle being able to graze. They’re opposed to the project.

Neither was able to attend the June open house in West Point, but they sent their son to ask questions.

‘We’ve seen this’

Other landowners in Lowndes County couldn’t make it to the open house and said the company hasn’t done enough to communicate with them. Elaine Evans, who owns land near the Vaughns, said she’s been trying unsuccessfully to get in touch with the company with since mid June when she received a letter alerting her the project may come within 500 feet of her property.

Evans likes being away from construction and people in her home. Utility projects and plants that arrived in the area before have been a nuisance to people who want to be left alone, she said.

“We’ve seen this,” she said. “We’ve been impacted.”

The Southern Cross letter also informed Evans of the June 30 meeting, which she was unable to attend. She felt she hadn’t had adequate time to reach out to the company, ask questions and raise her concerns.

And she wasn’t alone. Patrick Murphree, who owns 56 acres of land in the Steens area, believes the company intended to quell response with such short notice.

“We didn’t have adequate time to respond,” he said. “We were on vacation at the end of May through the end of June. Then I was back at work full force.

“It was an intentional thing, that’s for sure, to give us as little bit of response time as possible,” he added.

Legally, Presley said, Southern Cross Transmission is under no obligation to communicate with landowners before submitting the proposed route.

Southern Cross Transmission plans to submit the proposed route to the Public Service Commission in September. Presley previously told The Dispatch the commission would hold public hearings once the route was submitted to get more input from citizens. Landowners have 20 days to submit a formal objection and intervene in the project once the company files the proposal.

Landowners start petition

Murphree, Evans and the Vaughns, as well as several other neighbors around Steens, have already submitted a petition to Southern Cross saying they do not want the route to cross their properties.

Each has various concerns – the Vaughns want to keep their land intact and be able to continue raising cattle. Murphree, meanwhile, is afraid the value of his land will decrease if the route goes in place there. And all want to know how the project will benefit Lowndes County and Mississippi.

Presley previously told The Dispatch the project will allow the state to diversify power generation options by taking advantage of wind energy.

Southern Cross Transmission is making every effort to hear property owners’ concerns, company spokesperson Denton Gibbs said. Since the June 30 meeting, representatives have responded to 205 phone calls, 93 emails, 30 letters and 37 contacts through Southern Cross Transmission’s website, he said. And the company is willing to do more, he added.

“We will sit down and visit with landowners as requested,” he said.

Bobbie Vaughn hasn’t had much trouble getting in touch with representatives from the company. They had been cordial in their responses, she said. But that doesn’t change her opinion about the project – She doesn’t want the route across her land, and if she sits down with representatives, she will tell them so.

“We are vehemently opposed,” she said.