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MEC Selects Route for 4-Mile Transmission Line on Sugar Mountain, Bypasses Lutherock Natural Heritage Area

Map of route selected
Map of route selected

By Jesse Wood

Aug. 21, 2012. Mountain Electric Cooperative (MEC) selected the route for its planned 69,000 volt (69 kV) transmission line amidst Sugar Mountain in Avery County and recently notified landowners within a 6.5 mile study area.

Among 12 alternatives, the route chosen has alleviated concerns of those who feared the transmission line would run through the 823-acre Lutherock Natural Heritage Area, which contains numerous rare flora and fauna.

In the past two months, 244 of those acres were added in attempt to save the area from the planned route that is 4.15 miles long, including approximately three miles of new right-of-way and more than one mile of existing MEC transmission line right-of-way that runs between Banner Elk and Newland. The standard width of the right away will be 75 feet.

“We are happy – still not super stoked,” said Kevin Parker, whose family owns portions of the Lutherock Natural Heritage Area. “It goes right through some of our neighbors land.”

Parker said that one of the things he and others spoke about to officials regarding the transmission line was the feasibility of an underground line, which MEC and Pike Energy Solutions, a Charlotte-based firm that helped in the study, deemed too expensive.

The transmission line will connect a future substation in the Village of Sugar Mountain to MEC’s 69 kV electrical grid near its Banner Elk Substation.

In a press release, MEC General Manager Joe Thacker said, “The future Sugar Mountain Substation and 69 kV Line are necessary to maintain adequate electrical capacity and service reliability in the Sugar Mountain, Banner Elk, and Grandfather Mountain areas.”

“Additionally, the new facilities will improve service capacity conditions in the Linville area due to electrical load that will be transferred from our Linville Substation to the new Sugar Mountain Substation when it becomes operational.”

After MEC acquired land for the new substation from the Village of Sugar Mountain, MEC completed a siting study, developed 12 alternative routes and held two community workshops.

The press release cites that the siting team collected a “massive amount” of environmental, cultural resource, land use and scenic quality data throughout the vicinity of the project.

“We are very confident that the route selected for the future 69 kV line is the one that will minimize effects to environmental, cultural, land use and scenic resources in the region,” said Richard Grubb, Mountain Electric’s Director of Engineering and Operations.

Mountain Electric plans to begin surveying the new 3 mile portion of the line later this year and will be working with property owners crossed by the line route to acquire the needed right-of-way.

During the selection process, many affected peoples – such as Parker and the congregation of Lutheridge + Lutherock Ministries, Inc., which runs Camp Lutherock amidst the natural area – were concerned about the route to be selected.

Asked if the outcry had any effect on the outcome, Dwight Hollifield of Pike Energy Solutions responded via email:

“The answer is definitely not. The Lutherrock Significant Natural Area was given constraint weight appropriate to its sensitivity to transmission line construction, just as we’ve treated similar natural areas on many similar transmission line projects.”

Map of route selected