By Rick Dandes
The Daily Item
DALMATIA — Nine property owners are celebrating the state Public Utility Commission’s rejection of PPL Electric Utilities’ plan to string nearly 12 miles of power lines over scenic farmland in Northumberland, Snyder and Juniata counties.
“This is huge,” said an ebullient Roy Maurer, a Dalmatia farmer who spent $50,000 to fight the utility. “It’s a rare thing to win a case against such a well-funded corporation. But our group of farmers got together and did just that.”
Two PUC administrative law judges, David A. Salapa and Joel H. Cheskis, ultimately made the decision, Maurer said.
PPL had requested to the PUC that it wanted to exercise eminent domain over several properties for a proposed Dalmatia to Richfield 69-kilovolt transmission line project.
“They said in a hearing it was necessary,” Maurer said. “But PPL hadn’t done any repair work on our lines for 15 years, and now they came along and said they (were) needed for the service, accommodation, convenience or safety of the public? I think the judges, who had a year to study the request, saw through that argument — and denied it.”
In the 44-page decision, Salapa and Cheskis wrote: “Need” was not proven, therefore “We recommend ... that PPL’s application be rejected.”
The judges said that it was not necessary to address the route because PPL had not proven need for the project.
PPL plans to contest the judges’ recommendation, Maurer said.
“I’ll probably have to pay to have our lawyers make further arguments and fight PPL again,” he said. “They have a lot of money. And I’ve spent a lot of money on this, and I don’t think I’ll recover any of it, even if we ultimately prevail. But this is not just about me.
“All of the landowners involved here have spent money and time fighting this. But I couldn’t live with myself if I hadn’t done everything I could to stop PPL’s plans for the land. For generations, our ancestors were protectors of their rural farmland and we can do no less.”
After the recommendations went public, Maurer said: “We thank the judges for listening to the community and property owners in this case of eminent domain. We had a lot of community support and encouragement throughout the pats few years. We couldn’t have survived without them.”
Responses to the recommendation are due in writing to the PUC no later than Monday at the PUC, said a PUC spokesman.
Replies to the written responses are due no later than Jan. 24.
Meanwhile, PPL is still urging the PUC to approve its application because, the company says, the project is needed to improve electrical service.
A final ruling will be made this year.
But, even then, the PUC decision can be appealed to the state Commonwealth Court.