Henderson County passes resolution on transmission lines; inks Wingate lease

Hendersonville Times-News September 8, 2015

The Henderson County Board of Commissioners passed a resolution outlining its position on Duke Energy’s proposed transmission lines during a meeting Tuesday, after an opening Pledge of Allegiance led by four World War II veterans and a commemoration of the 70th anniversary of Victory over Japan Day,

Dubbed the Foothills Transmission Project, part of Duke’s larger Western Carolinas Modernization Project, the transmission line project would route 45 miles of 230-kilovolt power lines on 140-foot towers from the Asheville power plant to South Carolina.

The resolution, passed unanimously, says the line, which would pass through approximately 25 miles of the county, “will have negative impacts on Henderson County property owners and the Henderson County economy.”

The resolution then lists requests for North Carolina Public Utilities Commission Public Staff and Duke Energy detailing the county’s preferences if the lines are deemed necessary.

The first request is that the Utilities Commission Public Staff use an “independent consultant with expertise in electric utility system master planning” to provide an independent opinion “as to the need for the proposed transmission line project.”

The second is that the Utilities Commission hold the mandatory public hearing on the transmission lines in Henderson County.

For Duke, the county outlined seven conditions: first, that the lines be located within, adjacent or parallel to existing power transmission easements.

Second, the resolution asks Duke to construct steel monopole towers instead of the proposed steel lattice-frame structures, with “a natural color that blends with the adjacent natural colors.”

Third, that every effort be made by Duke to put the lines underground in sections that impact long-range views of existing residential subdivisions.

Fourth, the county requests that Duke use the “most current technology materials related to the conductor wires which could impact the height” of the towers, and the fifth is that “additional support poles be installed to permit lower pole heights,” especially where it could impact subdivisions.

The last two requests are that Duke permit the construction of greenways in the easements and participate in their development when possible, and that Duke Energy “fully and completely compensate any and all negatively affected property owners.”

Chairman Tommy Thompson said that after much conversation, the resolution reflects the county board’s position. He also said the city of Hendersonville was included in the discussion and could pass a very similar resolution at its meeting Thursday.

Gordon Smith, of the Western Carolina Citizens Group, a grassroots organization formed in opposition to segment 20 of the proposed lines, said he was pleased with the county’s resolution.

“I think it’s in line with the public’s opinion,” he said. “It’s a great step and I think it’ll be very useful in the process.”

He said the county’s decision to call for an independent study also “shows that the county is challenging the justification for the line, and I think that’s a great approach.”

In other business, the board also authorized a 20-year lease agreement with Wingate University for the use of the second floor of the Health Sciences Center, currently under construction at Sixth Avenue and North Oak Street.

The 98,000-square-foot Health Sciences Center will have four tenants alongside Wingate, including Blue Ridge Community College, Pardee Hospital, Hendersonville and Henderson County.

County staff negotiated the lease with Wingate’s executive leadership team over the past four months, which details that the university will pay $453,237 per year, based on a cost of $17 per square foot. In subsequent years of the lease, the rent amount will be adjusted based on the Consumer Price Index.

Blue Ridge Community College will pay nothing monthly, because the county pays for the college’s capital needs, and in preliminary talks with Pardee, the cost per square foot is the same, at $17, said County Attorney Russ Burrell.

Their agreements may be slightly different, since the services the county provides will be different for the two tenants. For instance, the county doesn’t handle certain types of bodily and nuclear wastes that Pardee will have.

The board also approved funds for three area nonprofits for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2016. Henderson County Community Development Council received $900, the Henderson County Education History Initiative received $1,800 and MountainTrue received $7,493.

The board also approved a number of measures to further ongoing security work at the 1995 Courthouse, including a $917,493.78 project budget.

A construction contract for phase two of the project was awarded to Riddle Construction Company for $128,873.

An architectural service agreement for phase three was approved for The Tamara Peacock Company Architects for $25,500. The board also approved an additional eight cameras and an access door lock for the Tax Department area of the building.

Commissioners added provisions to explore keeping the courthouse steps and looking at a different style of fencing for the 1995 courthouse.