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updated: 2/1/2014 6:32 PM

Elgin residents fight ComEd's plans

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Elgin homeowners soundly told ComEd on Saturday morning they don't want high-voltage power lines to run along their properties -- but if they must, they need to be placed underground.

The $250 million Grand Prairie Gateway Project would extend power lines along a 60-mile stretch between substations in Byron and Wayne, crossing Kane, DuPage, DeKalb and Ogle counties.

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The Illinois Commerce Commission is expected to make a decision about the plan by mid-July. About 400 steel towers, reaching about 160 feet high, will be needed.

John Tomasiewicz, association president for Bowes Creek Active Adult Townhomes, said aboveground power lines will lower property values, and might have adverse environmental and health consequences.

"This is corporate greed at its highest level. I see no local benefit or cost justification," he said.

John Fraccaro of the Catatoga Property Owners Association agreed. "Property values will take a huge hit along the corridors."

About 120 people attended the event organized by state Rep. Keith Farnham and state Sen. Karen McConnaughay at Elgin Community College.

There are no underground high-voltage power lines in northern Illinois other than in Chicago, said Fidel Marquez, ComEd's senior vice president for governmental and external affairs. Any suburban underground lines are all lower voltage, he said.

More than 90 percent of the project's cost would be borne by ComEd's 3.8 million customers in northern Illinois, and switching to underground lines would increase the price tag by five to 15 times, Marquez said.

The project is managed by PJM Interconnection and is designed to relieve congestion within the power distribution system, he said.

"Congestion results in costs, costs that customers pay for," Marquez said. The project will save ComEd customers $1.2 billion in the first 15 years of operation, he said.

With savings of that magnitude, ComEd should be able to come up with a way to pay for underground lines, Elgin Mayor David Kaptain said. The Elgin City Council advocates rerouting the project, or underground lines at a minimum.

In Elgin, the proposed route is adjacent to 690 homes and Otter Creek Elementary School, as well as 670 or so future homes, Kaptain said. ComEd's proposal doesn't meet basic criteria regarding land use, proximity to development and other factors, he said.

"Underground installation would substantially mitigate the adverse impact of virtually all of those," he said.

South Elgin Village Administrator Larry Jones said residents of affected neighborhoods in the village share those concerns.

Farmers in Plato Township recently petitioned the Kane County Forest Preserve District to help keep the towers off their property.

ComEd looked at potential sites in a more than 700 square mile area, and narrowed down the project during a process that included nine open houses attended by more than 2,000 people, Marquez said.

"We believe we submitted the best primary routes available, given the complexity," he said.

ComEd is looking into the cost of building underground lines along the Bowes Creek community after a legal request to that effect was filed with the ICC, officials said.

Several homeowners said they weren't properly informed of ComEd's plans and now are scrambling to get organized.

"If we don't have a hired gun to fight ComEd before (the ICC), we are dead meat," said George Levy, president of the Mulberry Grove Homeowners Association in Elgin.

Teri and Dale Root said they moved to Bowes Creek in July, and later found out power lines might run directly across their backyard.

"We had no idea what was going on," Teri Root said. "If we did, we would have seriously considered not moving."

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