COLUMBIA — Concerned residents gathered at Rock Bridge High School this week to discuss an issue that they feared could affect their money and their health.
About 300 residents passed through the open house forum over the course of Thursday evening to discuss the placement for three new 161 kilovolt transmission lines, or power lines, that will provide power to southwest Columbia from a substation in Mill Creek.
Thursday's open house was the third held during the week. Forums were also held Tuesday and Wednesday to allow residents to comment on the proposal.
Many residents expressed concerns about possible health risks posed by electric and magnetic fields from the power lines and negative effects the lines could have on property values.
The power lines will be used to accommodate increased electricity usage in the southwest portion of the city, said Adam Schuttler, an engineer for Columbia Water and Light.
The total cost of construction could be anywhere from $7.5 million to $56.25 million, according to Columbia Water and Light.
The cost will vary based upon which plan is approved for the power lines. The lines will follow one of three routes and be constructed as either overhead or buried lines. Overhead lines would cost between $500,000 and $750,000 per mile, while buried lines would cost anywhere from $2.5 million to $3.75 million per mile.
The city could opt to use a combination of underground and overhead lines, Schuttler said.
The city has not yet determined the cost of the estimated maintenance over time or of the easements — legal agreements between the city and property owners — that would be required to build the lines.
Tom Mendenhall, president of the Bonne Femme Neighborhood Association, said the association is in favor of building underground lines.
Mendenhall said he thought the total cost difference would be worth it once maintenance costs over time were considered.
“It costs more, but for a 50-year run, it’s a benefit for the community,” he said.
Overall, people at the Columbia Water and Light meeting said they accepted the need for the construction, but did not want the lines near them.
Some meeting attendees were bothered by the manner in which the city engaged the community in the discussion. During one question-and-answer session, members of the crowd shouted out complaints about the lack of prior notification.
State Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, called for a do-over of the whole meeting. He emphasized the lack of organization and pointed out that many people found out about the meeting from their neighborhood associations rather than the city.
“These are smart, confident people, and if they want to, they can kill (this project) dead,” Kelly said.
The city plans to choose a route for the power lines within the next two years and will estimate the potential property value decreases for a five-year span shortly after that. Columbia Water and Light's next step is to sort through community comments and revise the plans for the project accordingly.