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West Deer residents give their say regarding Duquesne Light high-voltage line

Chuck Biedka
| Thursday, Oct. 5, 2017, 12:01 a.m.

India Loevner knows Duquesne Light Co. needs to construct a replacement high-voltage electric transmission line in West Deer and Indiana townships.

Just where it should go is the question at the heart of a disagreement between the company and some landowners, who fear the project could negatively impact an agricultural zone that is only 15 miles from downtown Pittsburgh.

“We believe it's best for all for them to follow the turnpike route,” said Loevner, a third-generation farmer and co-owner with her husband, Steve, of the 130-acre Goat Rodeo Farm & Dairy in Indiana Township.

That may not be possible, company officials said at a Wednesday afternoon open house to talk with the public about the project.

Duquesne Light provides service to about 584,000 residential and business customers in and around Pittsburgh.

The company is simultaneously pursuing five “reliability projects,” including one that seeks to replace a 5- to 6-mile section of high-voltage line in West Deer and Indiana Township, spokeswoman Ashley Yingling said.

For the first time, a power substation would be installed in West Deer to allow quicker repairs and better service to customers in West Deer, Indiana, Hampton and Richland townships, where the population is growing, Duquesne Light project engineer Zack Merritt said.

Duquesne Light consultant Dr. Gabor Mezei, a California physician and epidemiologist, said there is “no reliable evidence” that high-powered lines cause health problems for people or animals.

“There are no lines coming down to the farms,” he said.

Duquesne Light is considering four routes, marked on a map as the eastern, eastern option, central and western routes.

The eastern route follows parts of the turnpike.

This is a change from a “preferred route and alternative routes” map circulated last summer and since updated. Also, the eastern route's starting point is at Route 910 and Oak Road near Mish Farms Meat Market at the Indiana Township border — another change, Merritt said.

Indiana Township Manager Dan Anderson and code enforcement staffer Jeff Curti thanked Merritt for moving the lines from the June map.

But they asked why one route puts towers near at least two houses.

“Why not put more of the line along the turnpike?” Anderson asked.

Merritt said the Turnpike Commission is widening lanes and will need much of the right of way it has acquired.

“It's very tight there already,” Merritt said.

The north-south proposed power line routes cross the east-west Rachel Carson Trail numerous times.

“Route 910, the turnpike, Interstate 79 and Route 8 all cross it now,” Merritt said. “It's no different.”

However, he said the purpose of Wednesday's open house was to get comments to perhaps tweak the routes.

“Now the lines will change as we listen to people and see the land, check on houses, wildlife and streams, and topography,” he said.

The company will be asking property owners for permission to walk their land to get a first-hand look and refine plans.

Otherwise, they will use what they can see from public roads, helicopters and satellite photos.

After the engineers and others determine which is the best route, the information will be submitted to the state Public Utility Commission for approval.

Opposition exists

Not everyone likes the transmission line plans.

The Loevners' 25-year-old Goat Rodeo Farm & Dairy is the northern part of the township in the agricultural zone. They have 140 goats.

India Loevner is worried the 138-kilovolt lines, strung from towers 100 or more feet tall, will cause the farm's 100 milking goats to stop producing, as well as bring water problems for her neighbors.

For three years, the farm has made cheese and sold it in the Pittsburgh area. Recently, cheese from the Allegheny County farm won a top prize at a California cheese contest, she said.

“We're 15 miles from downtown, and we're part of the national Farm-to-Field movement,” she said.

Property owners and brothers Tom and John Armstrong are leery of the Duquesne Light transmission line and prefer a route along the turnpike.

The agricultural zone is “such a fragile and unique environment in Allegheny County,” he said. He fears an “environmental disaster” if the new towers disrupt water supplies.

Retired physician Susan Orenstein Cenname owns a 12-acre horse farm in the agricultural zone's Clean and Green area.

“One route would go right through where my husband's ashes were scattered,” she said. “It would destroy a little valley here.”

The group RESPECTAgZone says it has at least 2,200 signatures on a petition opposing more high-tension lines.

It is thinking about turning to the courts.

A central issue will be the process by which residents' views are taken into account in light of some federal court decisions.

Duquesne Light said it will invest at least $2.9 billion in the five transmission lines and other important projects.

Chuck Biedka is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-226-4711, cbiedka@tribweb.com or via Twitter @ChuckBiedka.

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