Some residents in the path of a Duke Energy project to upgrade transmission lines fear the project could affect their property values and quality of life.

As many as 17 east-side Columbus neighborhoods will be affected when the electric company uses its legal easement rights to rebuild and improve an existing five-mile section of a transmission line from its substation at 4691 E. County Road 300 North to another at 4410 E. County Road 200 South.

Joe Nicholson, who lives along Greenbriar Drive in the High Vista subdivision, was notified in August that Duke plans to replace 137 utility poles near his home with new steel poles that will be 5 to 10 feet taller.

The project, which runs through the backyards of more than three dozen homeowners, means trees and structures within Duke Energy’s easement will be removed. Easements are granted by property owners to an electric utility to construct, operate or maintain power lines and other equipment.

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Duke will relocate items such as fences or sheds that residents have placed in the easement elsewhere on affected properties for free, said Chip Orben, Duke Energy spokesman.

The company will not replace trees that are removed inside the easement, but plans to provide information on what trees are appropriate to be located within the easement, he said.

The company has access to a 100-foot-wide utility easement starting 50 feet from the center of the pole line on both sides, Orben said. Duke has been looking at the transmission line improvement project over the past two to three years, he said.

Nicholson, however, said he was shocked by the utility’s plans.

“This is like a battle at City Hall, only 10 times bigger,” said Nicholson, who has lived in his home for the past 32 years with his wife, Donna.

The couple has a fence, brush vegetation and several trees in their backyard that will be eventually cleared. Stakes indicating right-of-way boundaries have already been posted on their property and that of other homeowners whose property intersects with the easement.

Property worries

About 400 customers receive their electricity from the transmission line that is being upgraded. The work is expected to take 12 to 18 months to complete, Orben said.The transmission line was originally placed in the neighborhoods in 1953, and 92 percent of the existing wood utility poles are beyond their life expectancy, Orben said. Upgrading the line will improve the reliability of electric service for customers, he said.

But Nicholson said he is worried about his home’s property value declining as a result of the project. He added that he and his wife were thinking about selling their house in the next few years.

He acknowledged being aware of the easement but suggested that Duke Energy move the utility poles across the street instead of clearing the easement.

“It just seems excessive to us, that’s the bottom line,” Nicholson said, referring to the company’s plans. “Our property means a lot to us and we take pride in it. When you come in here and strip all of this out that are in well-established neighborhoods, it affects the community.”

Obligation to clear path

Orben said he would also be upset if trees and shrubs were removed from his own backyard, but stressed that crews need to have access to lines in case there are problems to address on the circuit. Tree trimming and vegetation management is currently underway, he said.“I am sympathetic to people who have trees in their yard, but we have an obligation to keep that easement clear,” Orben said.

Orben said Duke Energy has made multiple attempts to get in touch with individuals affected by the upcoming work. Customers may experience a few service interruptions when work begins, he said.

Kathleen Abraham’s backyard will also be impacted by the project. The size of her chain-link fence will be reduced since a portion of it falls within Duke Energy’s easement.

She is also worried about whether her home could be sold in the future.

Abraham said company officials have been cooperative in discussing the project with people living in the area, but said many individuals aren’t happy.

“I think everybody’s sad about it,” Abraham said.

Becky Luckmann, who has lived in her Greenbriar Drive home with her husband for the past 25 years, is also unhappy about the upcoming project. She has had to remove a children’s playset from her backyard, which has upset her three grandchildren, she said.

Two large trees and a garden will be removed, while a pair of large sheds will also have to be relocated closer to her patio as well, she said.

“It will make it a lot less like you have a personal space,” Luckmann said. “It’s very frustrating when you’ve spent 25 years like this.”

But she acknowledged her hands are tied and that there’s nothing she can do to stop the work from occurring.

“The issue is they’ve been back there trimming trees and never mentioned any easements,” Luckmann said. “I guess we just have to accept it.”

Orben said Duke Energy has an obligation to provide safe electricity service at a reasonable cost to its customers.

“In the end, there will be a more reliable system in place to serve Columbus,” Orben said.

About the project

What: Duke Energy will rebuild and improve an existing five-mile section of a transmission line. Crews will replace 137 existing utility poles with new steel poles that are about 5 to 10 feet taller.

Where: The transmission line runs through these neighborhoods and housing subdivisions on the east side of Columbus: Adam’s Park, Amberley, Barr Minor, Clifty Heights, Eastgate, Flintwood, Foxpointe, Hartford Place, Heather Heights, The Highlands, High Vista, Jackson Park, Knollwood, Longwood, Longview, The Ridge and Villas of Stonecrest.

Why: The power line was originally constructed in 1953, with 92 percent of the wood utility poles past their life expectancy. Duke officials say upgrading the line will improve the reliability of service for customers.

When: Work on the project is expected to begin in January and will take 12 to 18 months to complete.

Information: Direct questions about the project to Duke Energy at 1-800-820-9362. Comments and questions can also be e-mailed to MidwestTransmission@duke-energy.com

Source: Duke Energy