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By MARK EVANS
STE. GENEVIEVE HERALD
According to Shane Hays director of project management for Commonwealth Associates, Inc., things have taken “a 180-degree turn” in landowners’ reception to the proposed Wabash Valley-Citizens Electric Corporation 69,000-volt power line to run through 19 miles of Ste. Genevieve County.
Hays spoke with county commissioners for more than half an hour during their meeting last Thursday, showing them detailed maps of the latest route of the power line—now 24 miles long.
In the spring and summer of 2021, residents along the proposed route of that time arose to protest the Wabash-Citizens Electric Corporation (CEC) project.
The unrest had started in late 2020, when Wabash hired an O’Fallon, Missouri Company to solicit right-of-ways. Some residents were livid about the firm using what were called strong-arm tactics, trying to get the to sign over a right-of-way to Wabash. Hints were given that eminent domain might be needed if they didn’t sign.
CEC, which has gotten its power from Wabash since about 2005, intervened at that time and helped smooth things out. The O’Fallon firm was replaced with a more user-friendly firm and some changes were made in the proposed route.
Hays stressed that Wabash, whom Commonwealth is representing, has totally changed its approach.
He said that “putting people back on their heels” to begin with was a very poor way to start the process.
“We’ve completely taken a different stance on that,” he said. “We’d like to approach people as respectfully as we can. A lot of this property’s probably been in families for generations. I understand all of those things. And working with people is just way easier. So we’ve had great success there.”
He told the commissioners that he has rights-of-way signed by about 90% of the landowners he needs them from.
He also added that permitting with the state is also “going well.”
He said the project would be in phases. He is mapping out Phase 2 now.
Hays also promised to have signs and flagmen on any roads where they had equipment working. The county has been adamant about this since issues arose last year with a subcontractor Spectrum hired to lay cable.
He also said that landowners might keep any trees they have to cut down and that they will be glad to cut the wood into various sizes for them. The logging process will take some six to eight months.
He went over how they will try to protect roads by putting down a rubber covering when moving heavy things across them. He also said they will put roads back into the condition they were in before. This was another sticking point with the Spectrum subcontractor MasTec.
Hays also outlined how they intend to protect creeks and other water from harm by using straw wattles.
He said that he has tried to hire local companies. Zahner and Company is doing the surveying.
“They’ve been great,” he said, noting that they know many of the property owners. “They’ve been wonderful to work with.”
He later promised, “Oversight people will be here everyday.”
Hays asked about bonding requirements. The commissioners will do some checking, to get an idea of how much should be required.