At an open house meeting Thursday night about proposed power lines, Tampa Electric's message to FishHawk Ranch and Channing Park residents was, we're here to listen.
The residents' message to TECO? Not in our backyard.
Since mailing notices to households in the area on April 2, TECO has faced growing opposition to its proposed plans to build a 40 mile high-voltage power line that would stretch from TECO's Polk Power Station in southwestern Polk County, run through FishHawk Ranch and Channing Park, and terminate at the company's FishHawk Substation. The project also proposes building a new substation near Balm-Boyette Road and Aspen Avenue, and expanding the Polk Power Station.
Several TECO representatives set up shop in a meeting room at on Thursday night.
After receiving the letter from TECO, FishHawk Ranch resident Christie VanVleet started researching on the Internet about high voltage power lines, and the electromagnetic fields (EMFs) they emit. She didn't like what she found.
"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."
Most studies on the health risks posed by EMFs are inconclusive, but VanVleet has created a flyer and circulated it in her community which states, "(The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences) panel 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."
“It doesn't take long as a mom to go online and find out there are potential risks here," said VanVleet, whose home would be within 500 feet of TECO's proposed power line.
Stephanie Filakosky, a neighbor of VanVleet's and mother of five, said though a strong buzz about the TECO project is building in the neighborhood, “I think probably the majority of the people on our street even today still don't really know about it." So she helped VanVleet oversee a petition table at Thursday night's meeting. Together the two have either written or called the Sierra Club, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Sen. Ronda Storms, and their homeowners association.
Michael Sheedy, who also lives on VanVleet's street, shares her concerns about the potential health risks of EMFs. “I think it's safe to say that we all do," he said. "I believe there can't be anything positive, with that much power generation, 100 feet over the heads of our kids.”
But Sheedy said the power lines would have another negative effect. "I believe the property values for FishHawk and Channing Park will decline. We will be able to quantify their reduction. We'll be able to measure a decrease in curb appeal, we'll be able to measure a decrease in traffic to the houses that are within visual sight (of the proposed lines). I think all of the folks in (FishHawk Ranch) as well as Channing will have a very real monetary gripe here. (TECO) either has to take that into consideration, or they have to compensate these people."
“The property values are taken into consideration when we purchase easements," said TECO spokesperson Cherie Jacobs, who attended Thursday's meeting. "That's basically what the easements compensate for. That's part of the consideration — what is that land value worth in the long term to that owner?”
As for the aesthetics of the proposed power poles, which would stand 90 to 120 feet, Jacobs said a newer design of pole would be used. “These are a modern design. They're better for storm hardiness, and they're much less cluttered than the old kind. So aesthetically they're an improved model."
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."
TECO hasn't even decided if expanding the Polk Power Station and building the power lines is its only option, according to Jacobs. "By 2017 we're going to need additional power," she said, and TECO is currently seeking bids to get that power from other sources, such as other utilities and power companies.
Jacobs said the bidding process will end in late May, and then TECO will decide whether to use an outside provider or continue with the Polk-to-FishHawk expansion. If that happens, TECO said construction would begin in 2014.
TECO will hold another open house meeting Thursday, April 19, at the Wimauma Senior Center, 5714 North St.
If you cannot attend Thursday's meeting but are interested in learning more about the new transmission lines, call 813-275-3334.