Santee Cooper power line path takes property from farm owners

AYNOR, SC (WBTW) – Santee Cooper is planning to put up new transmission power lines that would run from Marion to Red Bluff, but the utility company is going to need to take over some private property to complete the project.

About 100 property owners are discovering how “eminent domain” laws mean they may not have any say in Santee Cooper using their property to put up high tension power lines. Families who have owned their land for generations, land that has become part of the family’s heritage, will have to be turned over to the utility company, but as property owner Carolyn Gobbel shows, it won’t be without a fight.

“The property goes from the tree line there,” points out Gobbel as she walks across her family’s farmland. “They’re simply taking away property that’s been in my family 80 some years.”

Gobbel says the land belonged to her father, it was passed down to her, and for the most part, the small plot in Aynor is all she has left.

“Property that’s been here in my family they lived, they worked, they died here, and this heritage has sent, you know, kids to college,” explains Gobbel.

A few months ago, Gobbel says representatives from Santee Cooper told her they were looking to build powerlines through her family farm.

“We’re not talking about a little pole like that,” expresses Gobbel as she points to a small pole in her yard. “We’re talking about those great big old transformers.”

Santee Cooper is owned by the state, which means they can use private property like Gobbel’s for public use, but spokesperson Mollie Gore says the utility company is willing to pay.

“The property owners are compensated for the use of their property,” justifies Gore. “Generally, you’ll find there are a lot of uses that are compatible with our ease restrictions, and again, they are compensated for it.”

Martha Ann Johnson also owns land that would be impacted, and says she understands the need for electricity, but doesn’t want the proposed lines to go right down the middle of her farm land.

“I don’t want to do without my electricity,” admits Johnson. “I don’t want to go back to the days, I remember what it was like to not have electricity and running water and phones and all of that. I realize it has to go through land, but there is a lot of land that is not productive.”

Johnson says for her, it’s not about compensation. Santee Cooper’s take-over is about losing land that’s fed people for generations.

“Now, that’s not the problem. America can feed itself and other countries, but the way the population is growing and the way the farm land is shrinking, one day that can be a major problem,” predicts Johnson.

Gore says their main goal is to get power to all of their customers, and they’re trying to work with the more than 100 property owners this project would impact.

“There are state laws in place to make sure we do it right, and ultimately, we have to do what is best to make sure we are reliably servicing all of our customers with electricity now and for the future,” says Gore.

Gore says ultimately the issue will go to court if the property owners can’t come to an agreement with Santee Cooper. Because of the uncertainty of what some of the land owners will do legally, Gore says she can’t offer a timeline of when the power lines will be constructed.

Gore says there are several steps the utility company must follow to be sure the path designed for the new power lines is what is best for everyone involved.  Regardless, property owners like Gobbel say it’s unfair.

“He paid his taxes,” argues Gobbel. “He paid all of the things he had to do. He bought this property. He thought it was his. We thought it was ours, but it’s not.”