What Part of Conservation Easement Don’t You Understand?

What is it about power companies and conservation easements?

Well, there is one thing.  Conservation easements are created in areas of high development to preserve plant and animal habitat, a rural way of life and open spaces in the middle of encroaching development.  That means they are large open spaces that don’t involve taking land or houses from private owners.

AEP/FirstEnergy wanted to take land for their PATH power line from conservation easements in MD and East VA.  Here is what happened in Frederick County, VA.

Now PEPCO is going to locate a huge industrial facility on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay in Calvert County right next to the American Chestnut Land Trust.  Anyone living in the Appalachian region who hears about the taking of land from any land trust with “American Chestnut” in its title will feel the hackles rising on his/her back.

Here is how one land use expert characterized the factory at a recent hearing:

To put the exact size of the proposed site into perspective, Richard Klein of Community & Environmental Defense Services said it would be “anywhere from 10 to 20 times bigger than a Walmart” and about 30 feet taller.

“This one MAPP project would be three times larger than any other project in the area in the last 20 years,” Klein said, adding that he believes the structures would emit 19 million gallons of runoff each year.

High voltage direct current underground lines were touted by many in the PATH fight as an alternative to above ground transmission lines.  In some sensitive areas, it might make sense to run DC transmission lines underground or underwater.  However, undergrounding or underwatering is not without problems.

Large conversion factories must be built on each end of the DC segment to convert from AC and back again.  For a 500 kV line like MAPP, the size of these factories is considerable, as Mr. Klein pointed out.

The underwater direct current conversion factories for MAPP will both be on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay in very sensitive ecosystems on the banks of a Bay ecosystem which is itself dying from pollution and development.

There is a reason why conservation easements are created.  And it is NOT for locating massive transmission projects and their factories.

The boards and governmental bodies charged with managing these conservation easements have a deep fiduciary duty to protect these lands from industrial projects like PATH and MAPP.

Update: Richard Klein, of CEDS, quoted above, has informed me that the newspaper article I linked to above is inaccurate (not the first time that’s ever happened).  The converter factory in Calvert County will not be located in the American Chestnut Land Trust property, but is supposed to be built next to the Land Trust property.  I have changed my post to reflect the facts not the newspaper reporter’s error.