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Mansfield power fight to appeals court
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The city of Mansfield continues to fight efforts to place a new transmission power line through the city and is taking its case to the Georgia Court of Appeals after a superior court judge ruled against the city.

Georgia Transmission Corporation (GTC), a not-for-profit subsidiary that builds electricity infrastructure for the companies that own it, has worked since summer 2011 to build new power lines through the city, but Mansfield residents and city officials have fought the project with every means available.

The final hurdle that GTC must overcome is the question of whether it can use its powers of eminent domain to take public property from the city. Eminent domain normally allows government entities to seize private property (and pay fair market value for it) for a valid public use, but the ability of public entities to seize public property is stricter and less clear.

GTC's proposed power line is planned to run through a 15-acre piece of wooded property donated to the city of Mansfield by industry Beaver Manufacturing to be used as a public park. The easement needed for that property is the final one of 24 easements GTC needs to complete its 3.2-mile transmission line.

Alcovy Circuit Chief Superior Court Judge John Ott ruled on Sept. 20 that GTC could take a 3.129-acre easement through the park and further said that even if the park were already developed with walking trails, those trails could co-exist with power lines.

The ruling gave GTC the go-ahead they needed to finish the project, but the attorney representing Mansfield, Donald C. Evans, filed an emergency motion to stay with the Georgia Supreme Court Oct. 11. After reviewing the motion, the supreme court referred the case to the Georgia Court of Appeals which has not set a date to hear the case yet. Until the case is decided, GTC will not be able to do any work on the planned-park land, but will continue construction on the rest of the project.

GTC has already built a new substation on Mill Pond Road and is working on the line, said GTC spokeswoman Jeannine Haynes; the line will provide increased electrical capacity to residents in the area south of Mansfield to Monticello as well as those along Alcovy Road and in Social Circle. The project was requested by Georgia Central EMC.

"The new line is needed by December to maintain reliable electric service to this area during the cold winter months. We're exploring the legal options and we'll continue to try to find a way to work things out with the city," Haynes said. "We are scheduled to have the line in service by the end of the year, but the schedule could change depending on the courts."

Attorney Evans said Tuesday that the other ancillary issues in the case had been decided. GTC had been contesting the legality of the transfer of the wooded property from Beaver Manufacturing to Mansfield. GTC said the timing of the transfer was troublesome, as it was after the route had been identified, and said the transfer wasn't legal. However, Evans said GTC's argument was that Mansfield hadn't done the required phase 1 environmental study, but he said did what was required of it.

As far as the main issue, Evans said simply that GTC has never been given the power to condemn public property. He said the state sets up a clear process by which three entities can seize public property; those entities are the Georgia Department of Transportation, the university system Board of Regents and the State Properties Commission.

At a Sept. 10 hearing, Judge Ott said he felt ultimately that the city had no legal standing and would lose its case.

"You are ultimately going to lose on all of this. You may drag it out. You are going to lose and the city of Mansfield is going to lose, because the law is just against," Ott told Evans Sept. 10, according to a court hearing transcript. He added later, "...the state believes in eminent domain."

The decision will now be up to the court of appeals. Evans said no date had yet been set.

Residents of Mansfield have long fought against the proposed power line saying that there's no reason for the line to have the run through the middle of a small, 1-mile town.

"You're telling me you couldn't find a way around through all the farm land and pasture land," previously said Mansfield Mayor Estona Middlebrooks, who also said the power line would cause many valuable hardwood trees to be cut down on the scenic property.

Mansfield officials were upset in part because the power won't even benefit Mansfield; however, Haynes said previously no alternative was better.

"We want to be good neighbors. We met with the group many times and actively sought their input. We carefully analyzed the alternative corridors they proposed...We could not say those alternatives were better. We will continue to work to reach an agreement with the city and complete this line on schedule to ensure that this area continues to have reliable power."

One of the remaining easement cases with a private citizen was settled recently as well. According to superior court documents, GTC agreed to pay $1,800 for a total of 0.208 acres for a property along 6th Avenue in Mansfield. If GTC wins the court of appeals case, a group of assessors will have to determine how much GTC would have to pay Mansfield for the portion of park land it takes.

Georgia Transmission is a not-for-profit cooperative owned by 39 electric membership cooperatives in Georgia, and it plans, builds and maintains a transmission system of nearly 3,000 miles of power lines and more than 600 substations, according to its website. The company also jointly plans and operates most of Georgia's 18,500 miles of transmission lines and substations with Georgia Power, the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia, of which Mansfield is a member, and Dalton Utilities.