Santee Cooper proposes building transmission line through historical family farm

Santee Cooper proposes building transmission line through historical family farm
A letter from Santee Cooper was sent to an area family about a proposed transmission line. (Source: WMBF News)
A letter from Santee Cooper was sent to an area family about a proposed transmission line. (Source: WMBF News)

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - The necessity to develop strong electrical systems for the future is conflicting with a century of family history in Horry County.

"I would be selling my grandparents, my parents, my heritage and everything we had ever worked for," said Leila Miriam Carroll.

Carroll's grandfather bought a farm outside of Aynor in 1918. Her father inherited it in 1944.

"Our parents were equal opportunity employers before there was such a thing," Carroll said. "We all worked every single day during the summer gathering tobacco."

Eventually, Carroll inherited the land herself.

"They passed their land along to their children and their grandchildren, which is a substantial gift to have given and a wonderful treasure that we got," she said. "Certainly, with that comes the responsibility to be good stewards of the land."

Carroll's cousins, Dianne Grainger Butler and Carolyn Grainger Gobbel, also inherited their parents' farm nearby, which their uncle originally purchased in 1939.

"I don't think an entity, a state entity, can even put a value on what this farms means to Miriam and to Carolyn and me," Butler said.

The women received letters from Santee Cooper several months ago informing them of plans to build a transmission line on their properties.

"It is destroying really what our parents worked for all of their lives," Gobbel said.

Santee Cooper is proposing a 39-mile 230 kV transmission line, which public relations specialist Susan Mungo said carries electricity from where it is generated to a substation so it can then go out to people's homes.

The line would extend from Marion to Red Bluff.

Santee Cooper would improve on an existing line from Marion to Aynor, which goes through 125 properties, then build a new transmission line from Aynor to Red Bluff, affecting 99 properties.

Mungo said the line is necessary to serve the growing Horry County population, which puts more demand on the system.

"What we're trying to do is meet the need before we start having major issues," Mungo said.

She added the company chose the route based on the number of property owners affected, cost, reliability and the environment.

"We do not take the property," Mungo said. "What we do is we pay them a fair market appraised value for the use of that property. They still have use to the property. It just comes with some restrictions for the section that we have purchased a right-of-way for."

Mungo said most crops are still permitted to be grown. Trees, however, are prohibited.

The use of certain farming equipment, such as portable silos, conveyors and irrigation booms, is also not allowed.

Carroll said the restrictions would limit her own possible plans for the future of her private property.

"If I wanted to go take this long-leaf pine and I wanted to make the entire farm a long-leaf farm, I probably wouldn't be able to do it back there where they're going to have it because they grow substantially high," she said.

Carroll added the proposed route is near the back of her farm, but for Gobbel and Butler, they said the route cuts through the cleared land that is currently being used for farming.

"It was peaceful. It was calm," Gobbel said. "It is about to be destroyed by huge ungainly, unsightly, a huge power pole."

Butler said her brother-in-law tried asking Santee Cooper to consider putting the transmission line along their property line at least.

"They said, 'Well, I guess we'll see you in front of a judge then,'" she said.

Mungo said numerous routes were considered, but the particular route was chosen due to economic and environmental factors. She added that changing the direction of a line to follow property lines can add cost for both installation and maintenance.

She also said angles in the lines can make them less reliable.

"It seems like every line that we design has a few property owners who are very resistant to the process, understandably so," Mungo said. "With this particular line, we have seen a little more resistance than what is typical. We are working diligently with those property owners to try to help them understand the process and to work them through what this actually means."

The Carrolls are refusing to sign their permission on a survey of their properties.

"They have the right to clear brush," Carroll said. "They have the right to do whatever they need to do to perform their survey. They don't have any of the permits that are required for them to put it in."

Mungo said the company is not required to have permits at this point in the process.

"One reason why, we have not disturbed any land," she said. "We really have not touched any land at this point. What we have done is we have come up with a best design with aerial maps."

Mungo said surveyors usually use a small axe, if needed, on brush, limbs, bushes or small trees to establish a three-foot-wide line of sight to do the survey.

Occasionally, she added, it may be necessary for surveyors to use mechanical assistance, such as a chainsaw, to establish that line of sight.

"When we survey, it is very possible we will come across something that means we cannot cross that area, cross that property," Mungo said. "It is not feasible to use for some reason, so at that point, we would be required to alter the line or the design."

Carroll thinks historic farms dating back to the early 1900s should be the reason for rerouting the line.

"I have no intention and don't want to slow progress," she said. "But I know that many times decisions are made that don't take into account all of the factors."

Mungo said the project is moving forward and if the surveying is completed this year, the line could be done within the next six years.

Santee Cooper has the right to eminent domain in this case, according to Mungo.

"We try not to get to that point, but yes we do," she said. "And it's because we're a public utility responsible for providing electricity for everyone."

However, Carroll, a lawyer, thinks she, Gobbel and Butler have rights too.

"Once you get into court, an individual's property rights - I think at most of the things I have looked at - are well respected," she said. "It takes you a long time to get there, but I think if you end up with a case before a jury and you have 12 of your peers sitting there, you have people that may be farmers and they may be from rural areas."

Carroll also said she applied for a conservation easement through the state conservation bank in Columbia a year ago, before Santee Cooper contacted her about the transmission line plans, and she is now starting that process.

She said she thinks if that had been in place prior, the line would not have been able to move forward through her property.

"I would like it to stay green space," Carroll said. "It matters to me to be able to have it go on, just as my father and grandfather did."

Mungo said Santee Cooper is working on 20 transmission lines right now.

"It can be very confusing and very frustrating for the property owner and in the letters we sent, we gave them a contact number and we encourage them to contact us and ask for us to come out and explain any part of and really walk them through it step-by-step and we are happy and willing to do that," Mungo said. "We actually encourage that."

Read the survey permit form below:

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