‘Transmission travesty’: Some worried about FirstEnergy proposal in Aurora

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AURORA, Ohio-- A proposed FirstEnergy transmission project aimed at reducing disruptions during power outages is being met with opposition in Aurora due to the location of the line near homes and a historic district.

"This is bad because property values are going to be destroyed," said Mayor Ann Womer Benjamin. "...I call it a transmission travesty. There is no way there will be trees or any kind of foliage that can hide these poles from people's homes."

A public meeting is planned by the company next Monday between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. at Christ the Community Chapel for residents to learn more about the project.

According to a FirstEnergy spokesperson, the company is under contract to acquire land from Norfolk Southern Railroad. The company plans to begin the design phase of the project next month with the goal of adding a new transmission line to the sole one serving 9,700 people by August 2020.

Despite what FirstEnergy describes as the benefits to the project, some residents who have written letters to the company to voice concerns, say they are worried about the health factors of having a line close to their homes.

"My main concern is the safety and security of my children," said Morgen Cost. "The lines are going to run behind my house. There's a dormant railroad track there set to run on [State Route] 306."

At least one business owner is opposed to the idea as well, in part, because he says the building is a part of the national historic registry.

"We just want to make sure they're not the major, extremely large lines that might also give off radiation that we're not comfortable being surrounded by 24/7 the way we operate here," said David Demming Jr. of Demming Financial Services Corp.

He continued, "We're in the process of looking at making a major expansion to the building here and we want assurances that what's next door to us is something we want to be next to for the next 30 years."

In a letter to residents, the mayor states FirstEnergy consistently refused to consider routes where the company may have had to compensate homeowners for an easement or right of way. The mayor noted the proposed project railroad right of way proposal would have to compensate one owner, Norfolk Southern, even though the mayor says an estimated 500 homeowners could be impacted by the project without compensation.

"We have said to FirstEnergy we don't want the poles in Aurora," explained the mayor. "We have also said even if you are going to consider putting them in Aurora, bury the lines."

The mayor says FirstEnergy would only bury the lines if the city paid the cost which is an estimated $5.6 million to $15 million.

A FirstEnergy spokesperson released the following statement:

"FirstEnergy is planning to construct a new 69-kilovolt transmission line to connect two substations in the Aurora area. This new line will improve system redundancy and reliability, allowing much faster restoration times should power outages occur like those in recent years.

Most of the route we have proposed keeps the line from crossing directly over any residential properties, which is always the biggest challenge in siting new lines. The old Norfolk & Southern rail corridor – our preferred route – has been abandoned for 40 years. It is 100 feet wide, and we would need to clear and maintain about 60 feet of it, leaving 40 feet of existing forested vegetation as a visual screen for the new line, which would be built on single wooden poles mostly ranging from 45 to 60 feet tall, well below most existing tree lines.

We look forward to our public meeting January 21, where we will seek public input about the proposed routes and the siting process."

According to the mayor, the city is also pursuing legal action to acquire the railroad right of way.

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