Georgia Power continues preparing to build a new power line that will serve Baxter International’s $1 billion pharmaceutical manufacturing plant on the Newton/Walton county line, but a group of residents just south of Social Circle say they’ll resist efforts to come across their property.
The power company is looking at a slight alternative that could reroute the power line off a handful of residents’ properties on Willow Springs Church Road, but the majority of property owners on the road would still be affected.
The proposed 115-KV transmission line route starts from the under-construction electrical substation at Stanton Springs industrial park, crosses north over Interstate 20 and heads east and northeast along Highway 278. The proposed route then splits off and follows Willow Springs Church Road, runs behind the General Mills distribution center and onto East Hightower Trail and then onto Knox Chapel Road. It then runs parallel to an existing power line and ends at the East Social Circle substation.
Georgia Power said it had approximately 60 people attend three public information meetings it held recently. So far, the only residents who have expressed public opposition are those along Willow Spring Church Road.
James Brooks is one of those residents and said he and his fellow residents will not negotiate with Georgia Power,
because they believe there are alternate routes that would affect fewer residents’ properties.
Brooks said previously one possible alternative would be to run the power line along the Social Circle Bypass Road, both the existing section — also called Standridge Drive — and the part under construction, which would continue the Bypass Road south across E. Hightower Trail, around Dart Container and southwest across country back to Ga. Highway 11, in between Lauren Street and Scott Terrace/Social Circle Road.
The Bypass Road is north of Willow Springs Church Road, but it’s unclear exactly where a revised power line route using the Bypass Road would have to be located to get to the road from Stanton Springs industrial park.
Using DNR property?
However, even if Georgia Power goes ahead with its current route, several residents — Brooks said maybe six or seven — could get relief if Georgia Power receives permission from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to run the proposed power line along DNR property on Willow Springs Church Road.
Lauren Curry, the DNR’s public and governmental affairs director, said the state owns land — 179 acres according to the Walton County Tax Assessor’s website — on Willow Springs Church Road, which was designated as a heritage preserve in 1998 by then Gov. Zell Miller.
Curry said the land is part of the Walton Public Dove Field, a field area open to hunting deer, small game and dove.
Initially, Georgia Power officials thought the fact the land was a heritage preserve meant a power line could not be located there.
"On land that has been designated as heritage preserve, the (DNR) must follow the acceptable uses as described in the Heritage Preserve Executive Order," Curry said in an email to The News. "Otherwise, DNR must follow the procedures for an official Change of Use, which involves action by both the DNR board of directors and the General Assembly."
However, DNR staff reviewed the situation at the request of Georgia Power and has determined the presence of an existing power line on the property means that a new line would not require an official Change of Use "as the proposal is to place a new line above an existing line."
However, the final decision will be made by the DNR board of directors, Curry said; its next meeting is Jan. 31.
Where the parties stand
Georgia Power spokesman John Kraft said Georgia Power is still considering the option of placing the line on DNR property, assuming it’s legally allowed.
In the meantime, Georgia Power is in the final stage of surveying potential land for the power line. The company is also working on getting property value appraisals for affected properties, but he does not expect that work to be completed until after February.
Once the route is finally mapped out and the assessment values are determined, Kraft said, "land agents will contact each property owner to start the negotiation process."
However, Brooks said Willow Springs Church Road residents don’t plan to negotiate with Georgia Power, and plan instead to force the company to go through the eminent domain process, in the hope another solution can be found before that happens.
"Right now, we’re just in a holding pattern until Georgia Power contacts us. We had a meeting among ourselves, and we’ve all agreed to stick together," Brooks said Friday. About 30 of the residents met previously with attorney Don Evans — who is working with the city of Mansfield on a similar case — to understand their options.
Kraft said eminent domain is the last resort.
"Georgia Power will attempt to negotiate in good faith with all property owners. We will utilize independent appraisers in the determination of the fair market value of the required easement area. It is our hope not to resort to the use of eminent domain," Kraft said, noting that eminent domain is a statutory process defined under law.
Kraft said the company will need property easements from approximately 70 property owners; he said no easement negotiations have yet started.
The width of the right-of-way for the line is expected to be 35 feet when it runs alongside roads. The line will consist of guyed (tied down with cords or cables) and self-supporting, steel, concrete and/or hybrid poles that are approximately 80 feet tall, according to a flyer from Georgia Power.