In March Swain County commissioners voted to enact a moratorium that put a halt to Duke Energy’s substation project on a hill overlooking the Cherokee mound site, Kituwah.
The moratorium was passed amidst a heated dialogue between the county, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, and Duke about the location of the project. It was intended to give the county time to develop an ordinance that would regulate the construction of telecommunications and utilities facilities on county land.
The Swain County commissioners will convene for a public hearing on the draft ordinance at 1:30 p.m. on June 7. County Attorney Kim Lay wrote the draft ordinance, and County Manager Kevin King said it is the first of three ordinances that together will give the county the power to enforce zoning regulations on building projects.
King said the document that will be considered at the June 7 meeting is a “policing ordinance” that gives the county the right to make sure utilities and telecommunications construction projects comply with its land disturbance regulations.
King said the county would work with outside legal counsel to develop two additional ordinances that would impose certain types of zoning regulations on public utility and telecommunications projects.
The major proviso of the first draft ordinance is its requirement that any project that involves the “construction and demolition of certain structures not otherwise subject to the North Carolina building code” and requires a land disturbance permit must wait six months from the date it files its application to begin work.
Homes, because they are subject to the building code, are not affected by the ordinance. But the language does mean that Duke Energy would not be able to resume the work on its substation for six months, should the board adopt the draft ordinance.
Duke has initiated a $79 million upgrade of its West Mill transmission line, which serves parts of Jackson, Swain and Macon counties. The upgrade entails replacing the existing unobtrusive 66kv line mounted on wooden poles with 17.5 miles of 161kv line mounted on 120-foot steel towers. The proposed 300-by-300-foot substation on a hill overlooking Kituwah mound is part of the line upgrade.
Duke has been in discussions with the county and the EBCI and both King and Principal Chief Michell Hicks have expressed their opinion that the dialogue has progressed to the point that they expect the substation to be moved.
“We’re all working toward the end of the substation project being up there,” King said.
The substation would mar the viewshed of the Kituwah site and the picturesque valley that lies between Bryson City and Ela along the Tuckaseegee River. Both the county and the EBCI have offered Duke alternative sites for the substation.