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Farm agency urges Duke to consider options

Henderson County's farm-promoting agency has appealed to Duke Energy to consider other options before running overhead transmission lines that the farm community says would devalue land, threaten agricultural production and harm a growing agri-tourism industry.

Agribusiness Henderson County urged Duke to first relook at whether the need is real and if it consider underground lines and a route along I-26. Route options Duke announced in July disproportionately affect farmland, AgHC said.
“Large tracts are recognized targets for acquiring rights of way because they involve fewer property owners and the cost is less to Duke to seize open space as opposed to clearing woodland or compensating for improvements,” the letter said. “What is wrong with this approach? It is primarily at the expense of and discriminating against Henderson County farm owners, who should not have to bear the greatest burden for a transmission line that is supposed to be for a ‘regional benefit.’”
The letter was signed by the leaders of AgHC, the Henderson County Agricultural Advisory Board, the Mills River Agricultural Advisory Board, Henderson County Farm Bureau, Blue Ridge Apple Growers and the Cooperative Extension Advisory Council.


Here is the letter:


Agribusiness Henderson County is non-profit, public-private partnership that was formed to promote economic development of new and existing agricultural operations across our county. After facilitating meetings of the leaders in our industry to closely evaluate your transmission line proposals, each agricultural organization in Henderson County charged us to jointly and respectfully submit the following remarks and appeals:
Reconsider Options - a) If the presented "need" is real, find a way to meet objectives without expanding lines in Henderson County; b) Bury the lines, using 1-26 as a direct route; c) Use existing rights of way
Easy is not always right. Of the optional routes proposed, a disproportionate amount of the area is agricultural. Large tracts are recognized targets for acquiring rights of way because they involve fewer property owners and the cost is less to Duke to seize open space as opposed to clearing woodland or compensating for improvements. What is wrong with this approach? It is primarily at the expense of and discriminating against Henderson County farm owners, who should not have to bear the greatest burden for a transmission line that is supposed to be for a “regional benefit.”
Farmers are few in number. We have only 200 or so full-time farmers. They work hard every day, leaving little time to protest or to write letters. Their voices are much fewer than HOAs, environmental or other groups, but should be weighted appropriately. (2/1Oths of 1% of population, but 16% ofland ownership)
Economic Impact of Agribusiness. Estimated $600 million industry; 20 percent of our economy; 8000+ jobs.
Production Loss & Market Impact. 10,000+ farm acres lost in the past decade due to development. Each reduction impacts our overall farm production volumes, limiting our ability to attract and maintain markets at a commercial level and opportunity to meet increasing demands for local food (sustainable movement).
Investment Loss. Farmers typically invest in land rather than stocks and retirement accounts. Power lines will drastically reduce property values, placing a burden on the financial security of farm families.
Farming in the Right of Way. Some allowances are indicated, but limitations are much greater than Duke recognizes and we have local examples of high voltage lines negatively impacting crops and livestock.
Agri-tourism. This is a rapidly growing part of the industry that depends on beautiful surroundings and a safe environment for families. Power lines threaten both. We are also in the process of acquiring a federal designation as American Viticultural Area, with wine and cider trails that rely on scenic beauty.
“Totally Electric Farms.” This was a point of pride for Duke in the early 1970s, with signage placed on farms throughout Henderson County. We hope Duke has the same commitment and pride today.