Due to other commitments, we were late to arrive at Saturday's hearing and missed the great formal presentations by the groups Citizens Against the Kemptown Electric Substation (CAKES), Sugarloaf Conservancy and the Sierra Club. When we arrived in the late afternoon, they were well into general public comment. The amount of well thought out argument, research and salient points covered by the citizens of Frederick County continues to amaze me! Everyone who spoke was articulate, intelligent and had something interesting and unique to contribute. A couple that were very compelling: The woman who did the research on the other substations in the United States that one of the PATH witnesses brought up at an earlier portion of the hearing in an attempt to "normalize" PATH's proposal as something in operation in many other communities. Another was the gentleman who brought up the 5 ton weight limit on all the roads leading to the substation site. Does PATH think their gigantic substation is really going to float down out of the sky as portrayed in their silly Truescape video? When questioned, one of PATH's rebuttal witnesses admitted that construction would take approximately 4 years. Four long years of torn up roads, huge equipment being moved on site, noise, dust, disturbance and danger... are you serious?
There was also some very poignant, eloquent and emotional testimony given by several citizens and a pair of charming young ladies, who moved the board and the audience (well, those capable of emotion anyhow, which leaves out those sitting in the two front rows on the left side of the hall).
During rebuttal, PATH presented a string of witnesses that had not testified earlier, causing the Board pause to consider whether these witnesses should be cross-examined (oh, please, no! this would have added a few more days to the process!) but eventually made the decision to let PATH's attempt to circumvent the process by introducing new witnesses during rebuttal slide.
One of these witnesses was Robert Dahlin of Kenney Construction of Hagerstown. Hagerstown? Really? This is only a temporary office in place for the duration of the PATH project. What would a transmission line contractor need a local office for if PATH wasn't being planned? Anyhow, Dahlin testified that PATH will bring 130 construction jobs to Frederick County.... total, overall, during the four-year construction period, probably no more than 50 at any one time. He also mentioned that many (I'd bet nearly all of them) would be filled by specialty workers from other parts of the country on temporary assignment. However, Frederick County would "benefit" from the revenue these Motel 6 transients sprinkled upon the community with their fast food meals, trips to the laundromat and Walmart shopping sprees. Seriously, where does PATH think they are?
Another great witness was Jay Goldman, PATH's WV real estate values expert. He testified that he disagreed with the local Maryland real estate values expert that had testified earlier in the day and then spent an inordinate amount of time extolling the virtues of subdivisions in the Charleston, WV area from which he hails. These subdivisions are surrounded by transmission lines, small distribution substations, railroad tracks, water towers, landfills and public housing and have a lovely view of the John Amos coal-fired power plant's huge smokestacks and the homes still sell for a million dollars! He later brought that figure down to around $600K, but assured the Board that Charlestonians are falling all over themselves to live in these exclusive subdivisions. Does he also moonlight as a script writer for The Simpsons? I was approached during the break after this witness by several of my friends from Frederick County who were both appalled and amused at this guy, but I think amusement finally won the day. Smooth move, PATH! That's why your legal brains get paid the big bucks!!
The third witness talked about borings, groundwater and drainage, but honestly, he wasn't making sense and was so "boring" himself that I nearly fell asleep. The person sitting next to me actually did fall asleep but was polite enough not to snore.
The Board of Zoning Appeals deserves our effusive thanks for the professionalism and patience they displayed throughout this long, long process, no matter the decision they reach on Thursday. Glad that's over... although we finally found a great little restaurant and brewery nearby. We may have to come back to Frederick soon for absolutely no reason at all except great beer!
Link to Frederick News Post Article about the hearing. Be sure to read the comments -- pretty funny!