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PSC wrapping up public power line hearings

Labor and industry officials turned out Wednesday to show their support for a $1.3 billion power line across northern West Virginia, as the state Public Service Commission wraps up public hearings on the project.

Several construction union leaders were among about a dozen people who spoke during the first of two days of public comment hearings at the PSC headquarters in Charleston.

Roy Smith, secretary-treasurer of the West Virginia Building and Construction Trades Council, said electricity from the state's coal-fired power plants "is a true value-added industry" that the power line would expand.

"We mine coal and we add value to it by employing thousands and thousands of West Virginia citizens in the electrical industry," Smith said.

Larry Matheney, secretary-treasurer of the state AFL-CIO, agreed.

"This will expand our ability to export electricity," Matheney said.

Allegheny Energy is seeking PSC approval to build the 240-mile, 500-kilovolt Trans-Allegheny Interstate Line, or TrAIL, to carry electricity from southwestern Pennsylvania through West Virginia and into northern Virginia.

Power company officials say the line is needed to provide cheap and reliable power to big Eastern cities and their growing suburbs. But the project has drawn intense opposition from hundreds of West Virginians, who fear it will mar scenic views, lower their property values, and otherwise damage rural communities.

Hundreds of residents turned out to oppose the project at five PSC public hearings in the affected area, which includes Monongalia, Preston, Tucker, Grant, Hardy and Hampshire counties.

Jack Harrison, a lobbyist for a coalition of utility and communications companies, said the power line is a needed improvement to West Virginia's energy system.

"Infrastructure projects often meet with public opposition, but it's important to recognize the need for infrastructure," Harrison said.

Corky DeMarco, director of the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association, said the state's energy industries remain of vital importance.

"Whether it's natural gas, oil or coal, the energy created by these resources serves as the backbone of the region," DeMarco said.

But Morgantown-area resident John Balasko criticized the project as little more than a "ploy to market coal-fired power."

"We must ask ourselves, 'What are the benefits to state residents, balanced against out-of-state interests?'" Balasko said.

Balasko's wife, Janie Balasko, told commissioners the power line would run within 300 feet of their new home.

"We have no intention of selling any of the land, but Allegheny Power is saying they will take it anyway," she said. "There are better solutions to the energy problem."

Citizens will get a last chance to comment on the PSC application this morning. The agency's final public comment hearing starts at 9 a.m. at the PSC headquarters on Brooks Street.

During Wednesday's hearing, commissioner Jon McKinney defended the fact that commissioners did not attend all of the out-of-town public hearings. He said commissioners would read transcripts of those hearings.

"We get a lot of our evidence and a lot of our data in written form," McKinney said. "Part of our job is to read."

The PSC's formal evidentiary hearings on the power line are scheduled to start on Jan. 9.


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