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Opponents see new hope for stopping 275-mile power line

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By James Hohmann
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 22, 2009

Leaders of local opposition to a proposed power line aggressively challenged the justifications for the project during the last of five scheduled public input sessions Thursday night in Loudoun County.

About 250 people packed the floor of a basketball court at the Lovettsville Community Center during the State Corporation Commission's 5 1/2 -hour session.

The Potomac-Appalachian Transmission Highline, known as PATH, is a $1.8 billion project that would run a 765,000-volt line over about 275 miles, from Putnam County, W.Va., to a substation near Kemptown, Md. Plans call for it to cross Virginia twice, first through Frederick County and then through a 10.5-mile portion of northwestern Loudoun from the West Virginia border to Lovettsville.

The previous input sessions, in Winchester and Purcellville, took place the first week of August. Several developments since then have emboldened environmentalists and property rights activists who say they now see a rare opportunity to snag a major victory against big energy companies.

Maryland's Public Service Commission denied the PATH application in September on a technicality: The entity that applied to build the line didn't legally qualify as an electric company. PATH is a joint venture of the Pennsylvania-based Allegheny Energy and Ohio-based American Electric Power.

In October, members of the Virginia State Corporation Commission and the West Virginia Public Service Commission made similar recommendations to dismiss the PATH applications. Some officials said it doesn't make sense to move forward in their states if the line won't continue into Maryland.

The developers of the line said that they remain committed to the project and that new lines are needed to ensure energy reliability. PATH representatives have announced plans to file a new application in Maryland by the end of next month and say they plan to rework timetables for approval in Virginia and West Virginia to accommodate complications caused by Maryland.

Representatives from the Loudoun and Frederick county boards of supervisors urged the state to deny the application. Loudoun Supervisor Jim Burton (I-Blue Ridge) said another transmission line isn't needed after the Virginia Supreme Court upheld the approval of a 65-mile line through six northern counties Nov. 5. Supervisor Sally Kurtz (D-Catoctin), who lives about two miles from the proposed route, said unightly transmission lines would devastate rural small businesses that depend on tourism.

Thirty-six people spoke at the public hearing portion of the meeting, after official interveners in the case spoke for two hours.

Robert Potthoff, 54, of Lovettsville said he set out to build his dream home on an 11-acre lot 11 years ago. He and his wife designed their home to take advantage of 360-degree views, he said, but now 34 of his windows would give him a close-up view of a power line that could come within 200 feet of his house.

"We planned to spend the rest of our lives in the house," the small-business owner said. "It is not right to destroy so many people's lives for greed and not need."

Others expressed concern about losing historical treasures and questioned whether fair-market value is actually fair. Health concerns dominated many speeches. The PATH planners have dismissed concerns about electromagnetic fields causing or contributing to adverse health effects.


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