The Cape Hatteras Electric Cooperative’s board of directors voted at its meeting last week to begin condemnation proceedings against some Mirlo Beach property owners in order to obtain easements to move the 115 kV transmission line to the west.
Hurricane Sandy last October and two northeasters in November have severely eroded the beach and the dunes at the S-curves in northern Rodanthe, threatening a structure – called an H structure — that is just west of the highway.
Sandbags were placed around the structure after last fall’s storms to keep it stable until the co-op had a plan to move it.
“To ensure reliability for our membership, CHEC has been working towards moving that transmission line further west,” according to a media release from the company.
Susan Flythe, general manager of the co-op, said that CHEC engineers plan to move the H-structure and several poles north of it to the west into a marsh on Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge land and then bring the lines south through the soundside of the Mirlo Beach subdivision before connecting back to the main line on the highway.
Flythe said that a marshy area – a common area that is unbuildable and owned by the Mirlo Beach Property Owners’ Association – and four other individual properties will be affected by the move.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has agreed verbally to the relocation and permitting details are being worked out, she said.
CHEC is required by the bylaws of the member-owned company to grant an easement, if the company requests it.
CHEC sent letters to the affected property owners in December, Flythe said. In February, the co-op sent a follow-up letter to the same owners with easements for the members to sign and return.
As of last week’s board meeting, none of the easements had been returned.
On the advice of management and legal counsel, the board decided to move ahead with condemnation proceedings so that it could get bids and set a construction schedule for completion by Aug. 30.
“These proceedings will allow the cooperative to move forward with the project, protecting the system reliability for the entire membership, while continuing negotiations with the affected members in good faith,” according the CHEC media release.
Jim Meyer, president of the Mirlo Beach Property Owners’ Association, said in an interview that the members understand the importance of the transmission line.
“We all agree it’s vital,” he said, but he objected to the manner in which the issue is being handled.
When he talked to CHEC’s attorney Norm Shearin, Meyer said, he was promised he would receive a survey showing the exact route of the proposed relocation, which he said he had not received.
Also, he said, CHEC was expecting the homeowners to sign the easements “in the spirit of cooperation,” but that the company had not cooperated with the association after Hurricane Irene in 2011.
During the storm, a section of the subdivision on the soundside of Highway 12 was flooded and several homes were damaged and sitting in water – as were the CHEC power lines. Meyer said his group asked CHEC to help with filling in the area with sand and was turned down.
Eventually, the association assessed members to pay for the fill.
Flythe said that CHEC could not help the association because the land is privately owned, the same reason that neither the state nor the county said they could fund the work.
Meyer also said that the marshy common area owned by the association might not be a problem, but he noted that the board must get the approval of 75 percent of the 70 property owners to sign the easement.
He said the association and at least two other affected property owners have retained lawyers.
Meyer said the association and owners understand the gravity of the situation with the power lines, but that he feels that CHEC is just trying to “ramrod” the situation and that the board must do it “in the right way” with the proper approvals.
“I don’t think they want to go down this route,” he said. “It’s not going to be jammed down our throat. We’re going to fight it.”
Flythe said later today that Meyer was being sent the surveys and that she and the CHEC attorney will be at the annual Mirlo Beach Property Owners’ Association meeting on Saturday to discuss the relocation and answer questions.