Tuesday, October 27, 2015

An Open Letter to Appalachian Electric Power

Mr. George Porter
AEP Project Outreach Specialist
gaporter@aep.com

Dear Sir:

I write this letter in regards to the proposed Abingdon/Washington County Area improvements project currently under consideration by the Appalachian Electric Power (AEP) and such governmental authorities with the regulatory power to approve, amend, or deny such a project, including all local authorities and the Virginia State Corporation Commission – I do so as both a patron of AEP and as a concerned citizen of greater Abingdon and Washington County, Virginia.

As I understand it, from both media reports and the AEP website, there are multiple corridors proposed for a new substation and approximately eleven miles of high-voltage line (either using monopole or H-frame structures), elevated to 95 feet with 100-foot right-of-ways. The proposed paths for the lines, as I gather, involve to fundamental elements.  The first will connect the Abingdon substation to the new substation, to be located on Vance’s mill, dissecting north-to-south across western Abingdon through an area with substantial commercial development as well as of low- and middle-income housing.  The lines will then sharply veer east, running parallel with the Abingdon but outside of the town’s borders, roughly parallel to Watauga Road either north or south thereof.  The line will continue along this path until, somewhere around the point where Watauga runs into highway 58 it veers, in some proposals abruptly, in others lazily, to the Arrowhead Substation. 

I am not a luddite: I do not cry “not in my backyard” at the drop of a hat, nor do I oppose the development and building of necessary physical infrastructure, including electrical infrastructure – I am the son of a civil engineer and a political scientist with formal education in geography, and as such I value efforts to maintain and improve our infrastructure – infrastructure is, after the provision of security, fair justice, and education, the most important of bases for political-economic success.  I, however, oppose this particular plan, at least as proposed. 

My concerns hinge on three principle points. 

First, the plan is clearly designed to avoid the Town of Abingdon’s planning authority insofar as is feasible – this is done by avoiding historically significant areas, which is admirable, but also areas in which there would be a line-of-sight of residents in upper-class neighborhoods.  Less affluent Abingdonians, however, have no such protection. Similarly, line-of-sight becomes an issue with rural Washington County residents – the Watagua Road area is principally made of small neighborhoods, mostly middle-class, and farms.  I note that it is possible that by following the most southerly of the routes the lines would largely avoid line of sight for the wealthiest residents of the road, though it would remain in the line-of-sight for most modest residences.  Line-of-sight is not a meaningless concern – land values will unquestionably be affected for residents in these areas and, if the proposed plans are put into place a large portion, if not all, of the burden of line-of-sight devaluation will be put upon the backs of lower- and middle-income home owners.

Secondly, the proposal intersects with Creeper Trail.  The Creeper Trail is an essential part of the local economy of Abingdon-Damascus area – it draws hikers and campers from across the United States and around the world to our area and, along with the Barter Theater, constitutes Abingdon’s most essential tourist draw.  Any activity which devalues the trail, even slightly, constitutes a potential cost and risk.  The Trail is a non-renewable resource – once we injure it, and its reputation as one of the finest trails in Appalachia, if not the country, it is unlikely recover from the blow. 

Third, I question whether path of the infrastructure is remotely ideal – were the line to cut to the north and east of the town and then to the Arrowhead Substation it could skirt the Johnson Memorial campus and then follow a number of paths that are, if not shorter, than at least affect line-of-sight values of residences far less, not to mention entirely avoiding the potential injury to the Creeper Trail and its aesthetic value.  Alternatively, there remains what might be deemed the best of all solutions, even if it is, in the near future, a more expensive one – underground placement of the high-voltage lines, avoiding both of these problems and entirely resolving bad-weather related complications.   

I believe that infrastructure improvements that benefit both private interests and the general public are achievable without injury to the private interests of hard-working men and women, or of the public interests of the Abingdon and Washington County communities of which Appalachian Electric Power a contributing member.   As such, I ask that AEP reconsider their proposal, and that should they press their proposal that any and all responsible governmental authorities should reject it until it should be so amended, and call upon my fellow residents and citizens to do the very same. 

Most sincerely,

Eric Drummond Smith, PhD
Abingdon, Virginia 24211


CC:

Editors of The Bristol Herald-Courier, The Johnson City Press, and The Kingsport Times-News,
Clerk of the Virginia State Corporation Commission
The Planning Commission of Washington County, Virginia
The Joint Utilities Committee of Washington County, Virginia
The Joint Economic Development Committee of Washington County, Virginia
The Washington County Department of Community Development and Planning
Mayor, Vice-Mayor, Town Manager, and City Council of the Town of Abingdon
The Planning, Tourism, and Parks & Recreation Departments of the Town of Abingdon
The Virginia Creeper Trail Advisory Board
The Mount Rogers Planning District Commission
The Town of Abingdon Tourism Advisory Commission
The Town of Abingdon Recreation Advisory Committee
The Town of Abingdon Planning Commission
The Town of Abingdon Go Green Committee
The Town of Abingdon Fairview Committee

The Washington County Chamber of Commerce