MEAG Power to file court action on power line project

Attorneys for the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia are expected to file court action in the coming days regarding the proposed transmission line upgrade project that slices through northwest Cairo.
City officials say they believe MEAG is seeking judgment from the court that its existing easement would allow for the erection of larger utility poles to carry the upgraded transmission line through northwest Cairo to the #1 substation located at the electric plant and Energy Services complex downtown.
Last fall, when northwest Cairo residents learned of the power company’s plan to install new 95-foot-tall metal utility poles in their residential neighborhood, they cried foul and have actively been working to stop the project in its tracks.
If the upgraded line has to go through the northwest neighborhood, the majority of the residents have voiced support for the line to remain on its existing path, which has been in place since 1952.
Cairo City Manager Chris Addleton told the city council Monday night that the 1950s easement is “vague” and “arcane” and MEAG is seeking clarification as to their legal rights.
MEAG notified northwest Cairo residents and city officials in a letter dated Feb. 13 that the utility will seek a declaratory judgment action from Grady Superior Court “to determine our legal rights with respect to this project under the various easement agreements.”
According to MEAG Manager, Engineering & Construction, Ben Boucher, this process will allow “all of the affected parties to express their views to the court with respect to these issues.”
The letter from MEAG goes on to state, “Once the court declares our legal rights, MEAG Power will determine the most appropriate path forward within the legal rights determined and good utility practices.”
MEAG originally contacted representatives of the Strickland and Derby families in hopes of negotiating an expanded easement for the project so that it could remain on its existing path, but the families rejected that proposal opting to grant an easement along Sixth Street N.W., which angered many of the other northwest Cairo residents.
Residents did not learn about the project until it was reported in The Cairo Messenger last fall that the City of Cairo had granted easements for the redirected line and that 95-foot utility poles similar to ones installed through the downtown business district would be placed in the northwest neighborhood.
MEAG officials met with local residents on Sept. 28 to discuss the proposed new route of the transmission line and the history of the project and MEAG’s negotiations with the Stricklands and Derbys.
Following that meeting, MEAG officials attempted to get the two families to negotiate an agreement to leave the line on the existing path, but those talks broke down in November.
The city council voted 3-1 last November to rescind previous action to grant right-of-way easements to MEAG for the electric transmission line project, but MEAG has not officially responded.
City Attorney Thomas L. Lehman said Monday, “From what I gather, MEAG has some concern if the existing easement is not well enough defined or might not permit what they want to put there. I haven’t looked at the old easement, but it appears they are going to ask the court if they can use the existing easement and if the court rules they can then it will go right where it is. If the court says no then it’s back to the drawing board.”
Claire Chason, a local attorney whose mother resides on Sixth Street N.W. and is opposed to the relocation of the power line, attended Monday night’s council meeting and she questioned if what city officials were saying was actually MEAG’s intentions.
Chason noted that the letter sent this week to northwest Cairo residents and city officials does not mention the 50-year-old easement.
Addleton said the whole point was to ask a judge to clarify if the easement would allow MEAG to do what it needs to do within the existing easement.
“They could also be trying to determine their legal rights as a result of the city taking back its easements. The letter the residents received is not specific,” Chason said.
The upgrade of the line is needed, according to MEAG officials, to provide the city redundancy and allow the city to back-feed power in the event of an outage.
The line to be upgraded, according to MEAG, is the only primary feed to the Cairo #1 substation, which is located downtown at the electric plant. Another transmission line that was recently constructed connecting the #1 substation with the #3 substation cannot be put into use until the project in northwest Cairo is completed, officials say.
Cairo City Councilman Jerry Cox, who represents northwest Cairo, asked if northwest residents would be heard by the court as part of this action as MEAG officials have said.
Lehman said that the court would hear from anyone who wanted to share their “two cents” with regard to the definition of the easement. The city’s attorney said the court would pay more attention to those who had technical arguments over others just expressing preferences or opinions.
Councilman Cox urged that the lines of communication with the neighborhood residents remain open and that once a court date is set to make sure everyone is alerted.

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