Local News

Utility Contractor Cuts Through Protected Woods

Posted October 3, 2007 1:29 p.m. EDT
Updated October 3, 2007 11:52 p.m. EDT

— A contractor for Raleigh-based Progress Energy mistakenly cut a path through some protected woods in Moore County, angering the property owners and environmentalists.

It happened as part of a plan by Progress Energy to run a new 230-kilovolt transmission line from a generating station in Richmond County to West End in Moore County.

The power company hired SEPI Engineering Group, based in Raleigh, to examine a location off N.C. Highway 211 for suitable access to the lines.

The proposed path ran through Jesse Wimberly’s property along Hoffman Road, including 34 acres protected by a conservation easement in which Wimberly agrees not to develop the land and its taxable value remains lower. The land is blanketed with the signature tree of the Sandhills, the long-leaf pine.

Wimberly and his neighboring landowners learned of the utility's proposal in the summer of 2006. This year, he received a letter saying that a crew would conduct a survey of the area.

“I sat down with them. I said this is a protected area,” Wimberly said.

He said the power company assured him that the survey crew would not compromise his land-conservation efforts. But in late August, a neighbor alerted him that workers were using heavy equipment to slice a 15-foot wide swath through the woods.

“They just put on a big grinding machine and just moved through the woods grinding everything in sight,” Wimberly said.

The workers also blazed a path through Mike Wilson’s land.

“It’s supposedly about the third-largest tract of long-leaf pines left in Moore County,” Wilson said. “I was very mad, very mad, because I hadn’t been told that was coming.”

Progress Energy spokesman Mike Hughes said that during the site-selection process, the power company was not made aware that the Wimberly tract was a conservation easement.

“We would not normally find out about a conservation easement until we get to the process of doing title searches, and sometimes that is done simultaneously with the center-line survey,” Hughes said.

The company is considering ways to identify easements earlier in the process, but state law does not prevent building power lines in those areas, Hughes said.

“We certainly apologize to Mr. Wimberly, and we are working to address the issue and mitigate the damage,” he said.

Progress Energy is working with Wimberly to put the proposed route somewhere else on his property, away from the conservation area. But Wimberly said the power line doesn’t belong anywhere near his land. He questions the sincerity of the power company’s apology.

“What I’m suggesting is they already knew this is what they wanted to do, and they were just trying to make me feel good,” Wimberly said.