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City, Vistancia residents vow to defeat APS plan

Jim Williams bought his home three years ago in the award-winning, master-planned Trilogy at Vistancia in northern Peoria.

"We have such a beautiful community," said the 73-year-old, who enjoys the views of the scenic Sonoran Desert with mountain backdrop. "I want to look out and see the beautiful community and not see towers. The towers will destroy what I paid for."

Williams and more than 100 of his neighbors packed a standing-room-only meeting last Thursday to protest APS' proposal to route high-voltage transmission lines through the northern part of the community.

APS has chosen the Carefree Highway alignment as its preferred route to erect metal poles that could reach as high as 195 feet to take a 500-kilovolt and 230-kilovolt overhead transmission circuit 40 miles into Buckeye.

Vistancia residents and the city of Peoria want APS to instead site the line along Arizona 74, a designated alternative route.

"I don't believe you will see the lines in your community," said APS project manager Mike DeWitt, who was on the hot seat most of the evening, fielding questions from angry residents.

DeWitt said APS will present both routes and two other alternative routes in June to the Arizona Corporation Commission to decide.

APS reviewed nearly 400 miles of preliminary alternatives before identifying the preferred route and three alternates.

The city is vowing to fight tooth and nail against stringing high-voltage lines near Vistancia, which includes the private country club community of Blackstone.

From the start, the city has strongly voiced its preference for Arizona 74 rather than APS' preferred route along the Carefree Highway alignment.

The 7,100-acre Vistancia community, with a little more than 4,000 residents now, is expected to boast 40,000 residents when it is completed.

"The city of Peoria has an absolute stance, an adamant stance where these APS lines should be," said Vice Mayor Cathy Carlat, who represents the area. "It should not be running through the northern part of this community.

"We will fight this in every legal manner that we have all along the way."

City officials say Arizona 74 makes sense because it is adjacent to an existing highway that is expected to double in size in the future. Carlat said APS picked Carefree because it was, in her opinion, "the path of least resistance."

Not so, APS project manager DeWitt said at the packed neighborhood meeting. He said APS picks a preferred route that best meets its needs.

DeWitt said Arizona 74 is on federal land, which means APS would be required to do an environmental-impact study that could cost up to $1 million and take about three years. Even then, the Bureau of Land Management is not obligated to grant APS an easement for the project, he said.

The nearest Vistancia home would be 1.5 miles from the preferred line, compared with three miles if Arizona 74 were chosen, he said.

The transmission project would connect two high-voltage substations, one southeast of Lake Pleasant in Peoria and the other north of Sun Valley Parkway in Buckeye. Roughly 10 miles of the lines would be within Peoria's borders.

DeWitt said that if the Arizona Corporation Commission does pick Arizona 74, APS would "not appeal or object to it but will start the federal process and hope to get the rights-of-way."

APS plans to file its application to build the line in June. The commission's power-plant and line-siting committee has 180 days to make a decision. If the committee grants a certificate, it is then forwarded to the commission for review and action.

Residents voiced a number of concerns, including falling property values and health impacts. DeWitt said studies have shown no conclusive evidence that the power lines' electromagnetic fields harmed health and that power poles did not have a detrimental effect on property values, citing the master-planned Grayhawk development in Scottsdale.

Realtor Colleen Brownworth, however, said that in her dealings with Grayhawk properties, the power lines there negatively affected property values.

"We don't want it in our back yard," said Jeff Dixon, Trilogy community-association director, who pointed through the windows of the Kivi Club meeting room at twin peaks, which he said would be marred by the power lines. He said the association was working to get legal representation on the matter.

Dixon said he was led to believe last winter that the Carefree Highway was dropped as an option but that APS changed course in April. DeWitt said Carefree was always under consideration.

"State Route 74 is the only option as far as we are concerned," said Maher Hazine, Peoria assistant city engineer.

Hazine said the project would have more of an impact if sited at the Carefree Highway alignment, which has mountain preserves and open space. He said the city will argue that APS be required to do an environmental study if it pursues the Carefree Highway route. But if Arizona 74 is chosen, Peoria will do what it can to help APS through the process, he said.

"We are doing everything in our power to keep these power lines out of the community," said Mark Hammons, senior vice president of Sunbelt Holdings, one of the developers of Vistancia. "We are spending our resources. We've got a great team of experts that are ready to go and present a very solid case at the line-site committee."

Hammons said the company has hired a former BLM director to help build a case for Arizona 74 and is doing studies, including a visual- impact study of the lines on the community.

"We are working with the city of Peoria and county supervisors," Hammons said. "We are working with BLM. We are out there vocal and visible and making sure we are heard."

Resident Lynda Reithmann said she has so far collected 1,500 signatures from residents against the Carefree Highway route. She encouraged her neighbors to attend public hearings later this summer before the siting committee.


  

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