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Johns Island residents concerned over plans for new transmission power line

Updated: Oct. 22, 2020 at 9:39 PM EDT
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JOHNS ISLAND, S.C. (WCSC) - Santee Cooper wants to build a high transmission power line in areas of Johns Island, but some homeowners are worried about potential impacts to their property, the environment, and their health.

According to the state-owned utility, the Johns Island-Queensboro project will be conducted by Santee Cooper and Dominion Energy to strengthen electric reliability for residents and businesses who are served by Berkeley Electric. Santee Cooper’s portion of the 115kV transmission line will run for 5.1 miles.

Some of the line will run right through Simmons Creek, and residents in Swygert’s Landing say it will impact them and the entire community.

"We’re going to put power lines in the middle of a beautiful tidal creek and we’re doing that because a developer wants to build 8 more homes on the other side of this creek, " said John English, a Swygert’s Landing resident. “An arrangement was made to push the original path of the powerlines into the tidal creek and now we’re faced with potential destruction to a beautiful wildlife habitat here.”

Nicole Aiello, a spokesperson for Santee Cooper, says the route they chose for the power lines is best to accommodate existing and future homes. She also says they have been reaching out to people affected.

“We conducted a public outreach meeting on Johns Island in June 2018,” Aiello said. “Since that time, we’ve worked with many landowners, residents, community groups and environmental groups.”

But residents like Jennifer Swanson say there has not been much communication. She is also worried about the possible risks of having a power line so close to her property.

“I moved here because of my children, because I wanted them to grow up with the natural resources around us, the wetlands, and now they’re going to have to watch as they come through and put power lines in our backyard,” Swanson said. “Not only that, but the concerns about what the power lines will do to them health wise. You can find a ton of studies that say nothing and a ton of studies that say we should move.”

Santee Cooper is trying to secure a permit with the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control. DHEC held a public hearing last week, and they are taking written public comments until Oct. 28.

Comments can be submitted to the project’s public notice link or by email to hokejd@dhec.sc.gov. They can also be mailed to Josh Hoke, Critical Area Project Manager, at 1362 McMillan Avenue, Suite 400, North Charleston, SC 29405.

We asked Santee Cooper a variety of questions about the project. Here are some of the responses:

  • What environmental impacts will there be?

Santee Cooper conducted an extensive alternatives analysis to carefully site the new transmission line with respect to sensitive environmental, social, and cultural features with an emphasis on displacing as few residential and commercial structures as possible. And, after input from Johns Island Task Force, State Historic Preservation Office (SHiPO), Fenwick Hall, The Preserve at Fenwick Hall, Coastal Conservation League and member of the Johns Island Community, Santee Cooper worked with Dominion Energy to relocate the interconnection with Dominion from the Maybank Highway area to the Rushland Landing Road area. This relocation eliminates the need for new right of way and additional clearing near Fenwick Hall Plantation, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, and Penny Creek. This also ensures the existing tree buffer between Dominion’s right of way and Johns Island remains in place.

The chosen route avoids critical areas and other wetlands to the maximum extent feasible. The design and construction technique minimize impacts to critical areas and other wetlands. The route is located adjacent to existing right of way where possible, which will result in less clearing and less impact. We will implement best management practices to protect freshwater and tidal wetlands. Besides the very small footprint of the transmission poles, no wetlands will be filled or destroyed because of this project.

In addition, Santee Cooper conducted a search of USFWS and SCDNR databases and a field study. That study concluded that there will be no effect on any of the protected species known to be in the area.

  • What’s the proximity to Swygert’s Landing?

Santee Cooper considered the potential effects of the project on all residents who may be impacted. Although the new transmission line may be visible from some houses, the location was selected to minimize impact to existing and planned homes and to minimize clearing. The existing tree cover will provide some screening of the structures and the lines.

We understand that visibility of the line and poles can be a concern to property owners. The proposed route does not relocate homes or businesses, parallels existing transmission line corridors where possible, and minimizes environmental impacts and the need for new rights of way. The adjusted route will maintain an approximate 225-foot buffer off Swygert’s Landing parcel boundaries.

Santee Cooper says they plan to continue meeting with impacted property owners, communities and concerned citizens.

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