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FishHawk Ranch residents are pulling out all stops to halt through the community.
Residents are appealing to state legislators and have started a Facebook group, Stop Power Lines Now, in an attempt to convince Tampa Electric Co. to abandon its plans to install the high-voltage power lines near their neighborhoods.
Leading the protest are residents Jason and Christie VanVleet, who have lived in the Bridge View subdivision of FishHawk Ranch for three years.
Jason VanVleet said they were surprised to learn that the 200-foot-wide strip of land running from Dorman Road next to the Bridge Crossing, Bridge Walk and Bridge View subdivisions in Phase II of FishHawk Ranch was destined to become a transmission line corridor for TECO.
"We attended a meeting with TECO representatives in Wimauma April 19 and learned that the FishHawk Investment Fund sold the piece of land to TECO abutting our neighborhoods in 1998," Jason VanVleet said. "Then, in 2004, TECO sold the land back to the FishHawk Communities Limited Partnership, noting that they planned to use it for a transmission corridor."
This was news to VanVleet and his neighbors, who had been told that the vacant land next to their neighborhoods was a conservation area. Some of the community's residents, VanVleet said, had paid a premium for lots on the conservation area when the subdivisions were constructed in 2005. VanVleet said there are 61 lots in Bridge View, Bridge Crossing and Bridge Walk abutting the corridor. "That doesn't include all the homes in Channing Park," he said.
"There's nothing on any of my closing papers or documents that says the land will be used for power lines," said VanVleet. "We were told it was green space, and that’s where the community trail is as well. Now I'll have a great view of power lines from my front and back yard."
VanVleet said Newland Communities, the developer of FishHawk Ranch, already was aware that transmission lines would be built in the corridor when their homes were constructed.
"They (Newland) sold land to TECO so TECO would have space to construct the giant poles," said VanVleet. "At the time, TECO only owned a 100-foot segment."
Newland Communities senior vice president Rick Harcrow did not return calls made by Patch seeking comment.
What TECO Has to Say
Several TECO representatives at to address residents' concerns.
The officials acknowledged that the company planned to build a 40-mile, high-voltage transmission main from TECO's Polk Power Station in southwestern Polk County through FishHawk Ranch and Channing Park, terminating at the company's FishHawk Substation.
The project also includes building a new substation near Balm-Boyette Road and Aspen Avenue, and expanding the Polk Power Station.
"These transmission lines have nothing to do with needing more power," said VanVleet. "TECO says they have a state requirement to meet certain reliability thresholds for the whole grid, and that's why they're constructing the lines."
Christie VanVleet said she became aware of the project after receiving a letter from TECO. She began researching high-voltage lines and was distressed to discover they emit electromagnetic fields, which could pose a health hazard."
"My very first concern is I have four children," VanVleet said during Thursday evening's meeting, "and I do not want them exposed to what I consider are hazards of the EMF field created by power lines."
"There are multiple studies on the health affects of power lines and they are inconclusive," said Jason VanVleet. "They can’t prove it as a causal link to cancer, but they haven't disproved it, either. They simply don’t know if power lines pose health risks."
The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences concluded that low-frequency EMFs, like those surrounding transmission lines, should be classified as a Group 2B human carcinogen under the International Agency for Research on Cancer classification scheme.
VanVleet also points out that the transmission lines are unsightly and he feels they will devalue property in the area.
"We're in the process of getting a Realtor to tell us how much the lines will lower our property values," he said. "From an economic standpoint, it will have a devastating impact. My neighbor has already canceled putting in a new swimming pool. And we were going to put a pool in this fall and have cancelled plans."
TECO spokeswoman Cherie Jacobs said the power lines would stand 90 to 120 feet but would be less unsightly than the older transmission lines.
“These are a modern design," said Jacobs. "They're better for storm hardiness, and they're much less cluttered than the old kind. So aesthetically they're an improved model."
The homeowners also have asked for a meeting with state Rep. Rachel Burgin, R-Riverview, to discuss their concerns and have launched a petition drive and door-to-door awareness campaign.
"We want to get the general public fired up so we can put pressure on TECO," said VanVleet. "We also want Newland to step up and be accountable. Whey would these lots be sold at a premium and homeowners told it was green space when they knew that transmission lines were going through the property? Newland was well aware of the plans because TECO has already built pads for the poles in the pond."
Jacobs said the project is "very early in the process. That's why we're having these meetings, so we can get folks' opinions. If they want to propose another line, that's great, too. We'll look at that."
She said TECO hasn't even decided if building the power lines is its only option. "By 2017 we're going to need additional power," she said, and TECO is currently seeking bids to get that power from other sources, including other power companies.
Jacobs said the bidding process will end in late May, and then TECO will decide whether to continue with the Polk-to-FishHawk expansion. If TECO decides to move forward with the transmission lines, it would submit its proposal to the state Department of Environment Protection August and start construction in September 2014.
on the power line controversy.
Clarification: In an May 2 email from TECO spokeswoman Cherie Jacobs responding to Jason VanVleet's assertion that "These transmission lines have nothing to do with needing more power," Jacobs reiterated that TECO will, in fact, need additional sources of electricity by 2017. "This proposed transmission line is directly related to that," she said.
Jacobs added that TECO did not build the pads located in the pond. "The developer built them as part of the land-purchase agreement," she said.