A Georgia legislator whose constituents are battling to keep high-voltage power lines supported by concrete poles from cutting a 100-foot-wide swath through their city park is promoting legislation that would require state oversight of power companies' use of eminent domain.
Rep. Douglas Holt, R-Social Circle, said a bill he introduced in the Georgia General Assembly's last session would give the state Public Service Commission the authority to rule on any dispute between a local government and the Georgia Transmission Corp.
Owned by 39 of the state's 42 electric membership cooperatives, GTC plans, constructs and maintains the state's power grid, including high-voltage lines, transformers and substations, not only for the EMCs but also in tandem with the state's other power companies.
The bill would give the PSC new powers to arbitrate and rule on any dispute arising between a local government and any company owned or controlled by an EMC that exercises eminent domain.
It also would require the power utilities to submit their right of way or easement plans for public and private lands to local governments and provide for arbitration by the PSC to resolve any conflicts.
The bill was tabled in committee this past spring, but Holt told the Daily Report that he intends to reintroduce it in the coming legislative session.
Holt said Georgia is "one of a handful of states that doesn't have some kind of oversight" over the power utilities' exercise of eminent domain.
Under current law, Georgia landowners whose private property is condemned for the construction of power lines and power stations have no place to appeal, he said.
While state law requires power companies to hold a public hearing before beginning construction, Holt said nothing in the law compels them to act on environmental concerns, existing land use, property values or any other issues raised by the general public or local officials.
The utilities "talk a wonderful line," Holt said. "But at the end of the day, there is nothing binding on the utility to use anything."