YOUNGSTOWN — A high-voltage power line project through downtown “would be a tremendous detriment and set back progress” being made in the area, Chief Legal Officer Jeff Limbian wrote in a letter on behalf of the city.
The letter to the Ohio Power Siting Board, which will determine whether the project goes ahead, asked the body to allow the city to intervene in the matter.
The request would give the city an “opportunity to be heard in hopes of changing the route,” Limbian said.
Without the motion, “we couldn’t formally address the board,” he said.
Because the “interests of the city cannot be adequately represented by any other party,” Limbian wrote that the commission should grant its request to intervene “with full powers and rights granted by council” and the law of the state.
The council could consider the project as early as next month. As of Tuesday, the project’s status is “pending,” according to the council’s website.
The $23.1 million 138-kilovolt transmission line project proposed by FirstEnergy subsidiary American Transmissions Systems Inc. would be 5.2 miles long between the Riverbend and Lincoln Park substations, crossing both parts of Youngstown and Campbell, and would expand the Riverbend substation to install new equipment.
The lines would run parallel to the north side of the Mahoning River, running behind the Youngstown Foundation Amphitheater, through Wean Park, over the Market Street Bridge and behind the Covelli Centre. An alternate 6.2-mile route would be on the south side of the river and cost $23.9 million.
Construction is expected to begin in November and end around December 2023.
In his letter, Limbian wrote that there was a $10 million investment in the amphitheater and park, which opened in 2019. The nearby Covelli Center cost $45 million to build in 2005. The city has the center, the amphitheater and the park.
Youngstown “has worked tirelessly to transition from a post-industrial city that suffered from the collapse of the steel industry to a more diverse contemporary economic city,” Limbian wrote.
The city’s revitalization would be “tarnished by the laying of high-voltage electrical wires against the backdrop of the city’s most important economic development resource in a century,” he wrote.
Limbian added: “While the Lincoln-Riverbend project is a necessary and vital element for the stability and growth of the region, it appears that little attention has been paid to the aesthetic, recreational and economic components of the public enjoyment of a revitalized city”.
Limbian wrote that “other options have not been sufficiently explored or considered”.
He wrote that “an underground route would provide an even better aesthetic picture for recreational and economic considerations.”
Many city officials, business owners, residents and community activists have opposed the project over the past two months, with some suggesting the lines be buried.
FirstEnergy said the project would provide safer and more reliable power to Youngstown and minimize the number and duration of power outages by strengthening the power grid.
Additionally, FirstEnergy wants to place the lines as close to the treeline and train tracks as possible along the Mahoning River to minimize the impact on the amphitheater.
The company does not plan to put the lines underground.
FirstEnergy transmission site supervisor Scott Humphreys testified in a Nov. 30 hearing before Electricity Site Board administrative judge Greta See that he told city officials eight days before that “when there is a viable option on the surface, the subsoil isn’t taken into account, one, of the overall impact it has as well as the economic impact it has.
He said the basement is much more expensive than having the lines on towers.
Humphreys also said, “Through discussions, we have identified the possibility of hiding. However, this would be at the expense of the city of Youngstown as they are the primary and only benefit of this landfill.
Humphreys said there would be five to seven utility towers, the two tallest being 140ft and adjacent to the Market Street Bridge. The others would be around 100 to 115 feet tall, he said.
Additionally, James S. O’Dell, a senior implementation specialist with the Ohio Public Utilities Commission who is the lead investigator for the project, recommended on November 23 that the implementation committee approve the preferred route in the request. His statements supported the October 19 board staff report that recommended approval of the project.
• Proposed $23.1 million, 138 kilovolt transmission line project by FirstEnergy subsidiary American Transmissions Systems Inc. would be 5.2 miles long between Riverbend and Lincoln Park substations , crossing both parts of Youngstown and Campbell, and would expand the Riverbend substation to install new equipment.
• The lines would run parallel to the north side of the Mahoning River, running behind the Youngstown Foundation Amphitheatre, through Wean Park, over the Market Street Bridge and behind the Covelli Centre. An alternate 6.2-mile route would be on the south side of the river and cost $23.9 million.
• Construction is expected to begin in November and end around December 2023.
SOURCE: Project documents