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Simpsonville Mayor Steve Eden delighted about dozen onlookers Tuesday night at the city commission meeting by reading to them a letter he had sent to the East Kentucky Power Company, suggesting that a planned substation be built on the northeast side of Interstate 64 and away from their residences.
EKPC held a public meeting late last month to seek comment on its plans to run a 69-kilovolt transmission line from its substation on Brunerstown Road to the area near Buck Creek Road in Simpsonville, ostensibly to accommodate the two outlet malls approved to be built in that area.
Shelby Energy Cooperative, which provides electricity to residents and businesses on the south side of Interstate 64, and EKPC worked together in making the decision to add a new substation to accommodate the commercial development, spokesperson Candy Waford said. Shelby Energy buys its power from EKPC.
Officials have been considering the most cost-effective location for the substation – which it could create by eminent domain, if necessary – and the most direct route for the lines connecting facility to EKPC’s existing substation. Those lines require strong steel towers to support them, and the option of burying the lines may not be cost effective or appropriate for their size.
The malls planned by Horizon Group Properties and Paragon Outlets would be built south of I-64 and on the east and west sides of Buck Creek Road. Horizon will present its plans to the Triple S Planning Commission on March 19, and the location of the substation will be germane to those plans.
But residents of nearby Hunter’s Pointe development, already frustrated with the plans for the malls, had expressed concerns that the power lines might come down the south side of the interstate, placing unsightly towers and even the substation itself in their tony neighborhood. This time, they were pleased with what they heard from the commission.
“We wanted to talk about this at tonight’s meeting,” Eden said. “But we saw that there was a deadline of March 1 for comment, so we decided to go ahead and write the letter and let them know what we think about their plans.”
The letter, mailed Feb. 27 to Rodney A. Hitch, EKPC’s manager of economic development, notes that the south side of the interstate would have homes and businesses to which aesthetics are an important element. The area on the north side largely is dominated by the Shelby County Flea Market.
And the letter points out, in part, that “the northeast corner of I-64 at exit #28 is for industrial development. West Shelby water has a water tower in that area. The City of Simpsonville has a sewer substation. We believe this area would be the best location for the knew EKPC substation.”
The letter “strongly encourages EKPC to locate on the northeast quadrant of I-64 to best protect current residential and future commercial properties on the south side of I-64.”
That’s pretty much the argument the residents had been making, but many commented that they didn’t feel that their concerns were heard or that the project was appropriately planned.
Will the city’s input have any impact on EKPC’s decision?
Said Simpsonville City Administrator David Eaton: “It’s their decision. I encourage you to talk to your magistrate and get him involved.”
Nick Comer, the external affairs manager for EKPC, said the company would include the letter in its process.
“It’s something we’ll take into consideration,” he said. “But no decisions have been made yet.”
One resident, Ron Pottinger, said it was his understanding that state-owned parcels on both sides of I-64, the existing rest area on the south side and the site of a former rest area on the north, could be a factor in determining where the substation and lines may be erected. He said it was his understanding the state wouldn’t allow its property to be used, which gave him even more concern.
“I came up the south side and took a pencil and drew a straight line [to the outlet mall site], and it went straight through my property,” he said.
While Comer has said the decision will look into all factors, he would not say if one side of the interstate was favored other the other.
However, Public Service Commission Public Information Officer Andrew Melnykovych said he believes that utility companies normally shy away from trying to negotiate right-of-way rights with homeowners.
“We don’t have any say in this project,” he said. “But from what I’ve been able to tell in the past, on smaller lines the utility companies generally want to minimize the total cost and focus on the ease of construction. With that being said, it’s much easer and cheaper to negotiate rights for an open field than through a residential area.
“It’s much more difficult in a residential area because the property is much more valuable. The feeling I get is that they normally try to avoid those areas because of the cost and the hassle.”
Officials have said that the decision on this issue may take months, but officials of Horizon have said they hope break ground on the project this spring. Residents at the meeting Tuesday said they had the distinct impression that the decision about placement would be made fairly quickly
However, Comer continued to say the process would take time, noting that the company is continuing to negotiate for the location of the substation, but declined to narrow the timeframe down.
“Decisions should be expected within the next couple months,” he said.