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Updated: Construction of high-voltage power lines begins in Upper Valley residential park

by Andrés Rodríguez, Scripps Howard Foundation Wire // July 11, 2013 // Neighborhoods

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    (Andrés Rodríguez/Newspaper Tree)

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    Construction on Esmeralda Park in the Upper Valley began June 24, according to the El Paso Electric Company. (Andrés Rodríguez/Newspaper Tree)

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    (Andrés Rodríguez/Newspaper Tree)

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    The residents of Esmeralda Armendariz Ave. have posted signs on their garage doors and windows reading, “Stop construction” and “Stop.” (Andrés Rodríguez/Newspaper Tree)

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    The residents of Esmeralda Armendariz Ave. have posted signs on their garage doors and windows reading, “Stop construction” and “Stop.” (Andrés Rodríguez/Newspaper Tree)

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    Residents of Esmeralda Avenue and the surrounding neighborhoods attended a City Hall meeting July 11 to discuss the construction of the high-voltage power lines at Esmeralda Park. (Andrés Rodríguez/Newspaper Tree)

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    Maribeth Stevens, assistant vice-president of El Paso Electric Company Public Relations, answering the public's questions at July 11 meeting. (Andrés Rodríguez/ Newspaper Tree)

UPDATED July 12, 2013 @ 11:59 AM (MST)

Representatives of El Paso Electric Company (EPEC) and the City of El Paso held an informational meeting at City Hall on July 11 to address the construction of three high-voltage power lines in Esmeralda Park on the Upper Valley.

Residents of the far west neighborhood expressed concerns the power lines would affect the value of their homes and wildlife in the area. They also complained about the decision-making process.

El Paso City Council District 1 Representative Ann Morgan Lilly; Robert Resendes, Public Health Director; Matthew McElroy, Deputy Director for Planning and Economic Development; and Norman Gordon, City Attorney, were among those who answered the public’s questions. Mayor Oscar Leeser was present at the meeting as well.

Resendes said that although it is a contested issue, living under high-voltage power lines doesn’t directly affect ones health and McElroy said that mid-priced houses placed nearby the power lines do not suffer a decrease in value of more than five percent, according to his research. Morgan Lilly served as a moderator for most of the meeting.

Maribeth Stevens, associate vice-president of EPEC Public Relations, and Liza Ramirez of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department outlined the history of the Montoya-Santa Teresa substation project and made it clear that notifications were handed out to the neighbors.

“It’ll be improving reliability and it’ll meet the increased (call) for demand and productivity in our community,” Stevens said of the transmission line. “We have an obligation as a regulated utility to meet this need… We take that obligation very, very seriously as do we take the obligation to follow all the rules and regulations that we are required to follow as a utility and a company doing business in this city.”

She said that the practices EPEC followed since the beginning of the project were all in accordance with regulations. “El Paso Electric worked diligently to ensure that our facilities are constructed and maintained to meet the highest safety standards out there.”

ORIGINAL STORY
July 11, 2013

Residents of Esmeralda Armendariz Ave. have posted signs on their garage doors and windows. They read, “Stop construction” and “Stop.” Meanwhile, in a nearby neighborhood park, construction for three high-voltage power lines is underway.

Construction on Esmeralda Park in the Upper Valley began June 24, according to the El Paso Electric Company (EPEC), and is part of a seven-mile project that extends from the substation in Santa Teresa, New Mexico to the one in Montoya. “We’re doing it to improve reliability in the area,” said Teresa Souza of EPEC, “and also to meet the growth and demand of electricity in the area.”

The project was approved in 2003 by the Public Utility Commission of Texas, when neither the park nor the residential area existed. Souza said the project agreement was made with the developer.

Souza also said EPEC and the city held an informational meeting at the Don Haskins Recreation Center in December 2012, when they were ready to begin construction. “The city invited area residents and so we showed up at that meeting, but nobody else did,” she said.

During a November 1, 2012 meeting of the City Planning Commission (CPC), Liza Ramirez-Tobias, of the Parks and Recreation Department, said the public was notified via newspaper that the park would be used as an easement. Previous notices included direct mail to property owners in the vicinity of the proposed site and two El Paso Times notices in the early 2000s.

The CPC subsequently recommended to City Council that it consider placing the transmission line underground, to consider an alternative route on the south side of Artcraft Road, and to notify the owners in writing within 300 feet.

Canutillo Independent School District (CISD) board members drafted a similar resolution that called for the consideration of residents’ input in the decision-making process and outlined that property values and quality of life would diminish in the area if the posts were constructed.

“We got involved because we saw the potential of the property values in our district being diminished by putting these wires,” Laurie Searls, CISD board member, said. “We believe parks are good for kids.”

Searls said EPEC has not cooperated with the district. “We’ve given them, in the last eight months, an easement and we’ve given them a free lease on some land as good neighbors, as good partners, and yet they have not come to the table with these power lines,” she said.

Rudy Medina, who bought his home near Esmeralda Park six years ago, said that the community is concerned about the quality of life decreasing. “You’re going to have devaluation of homes, people selling their homes,” he said. “Not to mention the fact that, even though it’s a divided issue, the health concerns that go along with these high-voltage power lines.”

Medina said that when he moved from the East Side and bought the Upper Valley property, he was told nothing could be built on the park. “We were never told any of this. All of this was brought to light last Monday (July 1),” he said. “We went door to door asking people, ‘Are you aware of this? Did you get anything in the mail?’ And interestingly enough, no one had heard about this, no one had received anything.”

Medina said that the thought of moving has crossed his and other neighbors’ minds, and he feels there has been a lack of transparency from EPEC. “Overall it could really, really have a ripple effect of this entire community, affecting it so much,” he said. “(Had they asked) what we considered other ways of doing this, it could’ve benefited both parties.”

At the city’s request, EPEC will relocate the park’s playground and enlarge the walking trail, Souza said. There are no plans of halting construction. “Construction is ongoing,” she said. “We expect it complete by the end of the year.”

An informational meeting will be held at 5 p.m. on July 11 at City Hall with District 1 representative Ann Morgan Lilly and EPEC representatives.

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