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updated: 4/25/2014 5:25 AM

Residents sound off on ComEd's Grand Prairie power line project

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Property owners from Kane, DeKalb and Ogle counties sounded off Thursday night on a plan to install above-ground, high-voltage power lines running along -- and in some cases through -- their properties.

About 300 people attended a public forum about the Grand Prairie Gateway Project that the Illinois Commerce Commission held at the Hemmens Cultural Center in Elgin.

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Most of the 40 or so people who spoke advocated building underground lines, which ComEd said would significantly increase the cost of the $250 million project designed to relieve congestion.

"I don't think the commission can truly understand how close this is to our living rooms, to our swimming pools, to our parks, to our kids," said Connie Jones of South Elgin.

The project would extend power lines along a 60-mile stretch between substations in Byron and Wayne. About 400 steel towers, reaching about 160 feet high, will be needed.

In Elgin, the proposed route is adjacent to 690 homes and Otter Creek Elementary School, city officials said.

Elgin Area School District U-46 Superintendent Jose Torres sent a tweet during the meeting saying he opposes the lines running by the school.

Bill Koves of the Bowes Creek subdivision in Elgin said he's concerned about property values and the effects of electromagnetic fields on the environment and people's health.

"The lines must be rerouted where they don't affect people, or they must be buried," he said.

A ComEd representative said it would cost about $50 million to bury power lines on a 1.8-mile stretch along Bowes Creek alone.

The project as proposed would save customers about $500 million over the course of the first 15 years, said Fidel Marquez, ComEd's senior vice president for governmental and external affairs.

"We fully recognize that people have concerns and questions," he said, adding, "We understand that no route will satisfy all constituents."

Some questioned the process itself.

Tim Polz of Hampshire said he wasn't notified after a group of people along the proposed route hired an attorney and presented an alternate route that would run through his backyard.

Rachel Lange said she and her fiance also weren't notified that their property is along the route. They found out only on Easter Sunday, she said.

"Is this really a game of time politics and money? Or more importantly, is this is a game of turning neighbors and communities against each other?"

ComEd should bury the power lines and pass on any increased costs to all its customers, said Tom Nodurft, who lives in unincorporated Kane County. "It's the right thing to do," he said.

Elgin Councilman Rich Dunne pointed out the city's code of ordinances require power lines to be built underground in residential areas. Elgin is a home rule community, he said.

"Let the city council determine what is best for our community," he said.

Christine Pienkowski, who owns White Oak Acres horse farm in Burlington, also advocated burying lines.

That, however, "depends on if ComEd wants to share the cost with all its customers, or if they want just a few of us to pay a high price," she said.

Lynn Burch, a farmer from Ogle County, advocated the same.

"We're more spread out in the country, but we're still people," she said.

Bob Treadwell, a resident of DeKalb County, said his dairy farmer neighbor is concerned about the health effects on cows.

"If it's no good for a cow, how's it any good for a human?" he asked.

Kane County resident Bob Duffy elicited applause by saying "Just bury the stinking lines and be done with it."

The Illinois Commerce Commission is expected to make a decision about the project by mid-July.

The public can file comments online at www.icc.illinois.gov/docket/comment, by calling (800) 524-0795, or by writing to Clerk of the Illinois Commerce Commission, 527 E. Capitol Ave, Springfield IL 62701.

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