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Co-op faces challenge in replacing power lines in Hall County

POSTED: June 30, 2013 12:26 a.m.

The 6.2 miles of power lines were staked across northern Hall County before Lake Lanier was built in the 1950s and at a time when farms and pastures filled the landscape.

The scenery is much different now. In the decades since, neighborhoods have sprung up between Leach Road and an area off the lake between Thompson Bridge Road and Riverside and Island drives.

The growth is posing something of an engineering challenge for the 115,000-volt lines’ owner, Tucker-based Georgia Transmission, as it embarks on a $5.5 million plan to replace the outdated wooden structures with more durable steel and concrete ones.

“Unfortunately, there are some areas where vegetation has grown up in the (area around the power line),” said Craig A. Heighton, the company’s public affairs director.

“And if there are trees growing up into the line, that’s a huge safety concern.”

Georgia Transmission, a nonprofit cooperative owned by 39 electric membership corporations, allows many uses in the 125-foot-wide easement, such as roads, home gardens and farm plots.

The company gave The Times a helicopter tour of the 6.2-mile stretch last week, a trip that revealed an assortment of items in the easement, such as swimming pools and trampolines, but also patches of erosion and thick areas of tree and plant growth.

“As long as the vegetation is not growing above 10-15 feet, it’s fine,” Heighton said. “There are some species of trees, like magnolias, that you know they’re going to get above that — and some really are.”

Georgia Transmission has contacted owners along the strip to “let them know we’re surveying to see what we have,” Heighton said. “Engineers are (now) taking a look, segment by segment, for the rebuild.”

And the company is bracing for some upset residents.

“We have a full-time landscape architect on staff, so in the areas (that need attention), we’ll work with property owners to come up with an amicable solution,” Heighton said.

Also, Georgia Transmission doesn’t want permanent structures in the easement.

So far, workers have mainly noticed “the corner of a house or a deck or something like that, and we’ll give an exception to those folks,” Heighton said.

But if a structure burns down or is otherwise removed from the area, property owners can’t rebuild in the easement.

The good news is that by replacing the H-frame wooden structures with single poles, Georgia Transmission will create some “wiggle room.”

“If there’s a way we can avoid having to take out some vegetation, we’re looking at that,” Heighton said.

Georgia Transmission works with local governments in doing line replacements. Because the project involves a crossing on Lake Lanier at Thompson Bridge Road, the company must involve the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“We are waiting on implementation plans to approve,” said Tim Rainey, the corps’ operations project manager at Lanier.

“Among other things, we would evaluate the impacts to the lands and waters. If an easement was granted, they would pay fair market value for the (property) used and also pay ... an environmental stewardship (fee).”

Heighton said the project is set to begin in October or November and finish in June 2014, or just before another hot Georgia summer has homeowners tugging at their thermostats.

“We’ll work with EMC planners on load forecasts, and so, the line needs to be in place to meet that need,” Heighton said.

The Leach-Thompson Bridge roads line is one half of a larger line that Georgia Transmission is upgrading.

The other half runs between the Dawson Forest area, near Sporting Hill Drive in Dawson County, and Leach Road, a 6-mile stretch.

The entire line was built by Georgia Power. Last year, Georgia Transmission bought the line from Dalton Utilities, Heighton said.

Those three utilities, along with Atlanta-based MEAG Power, own and maintain the electricity grid in Georgia, which comprises 17,192 miles of transmission lines.

Georgia Transmission contracted with Georgia Power to upgrade the now-completed Dawson Forest-Leach line, Heighton said.

In another area project, it is building a substation off Old Cornelia Highway near Jesse Jewell Parkway and the New Holland Marketplace that’s under construction.

The $1 million project is slated for an August completion, Heighton said.


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