Tiny Apalachicola Throws Big Stone In David-Vs.-Goliath Battle Against Progress Energy

Nov 30 • 657 Views • View Comments

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APALACHICOLA, Fla. – Residents and business owners of this small Gulf Coast town filed suit in state court today against utility giant Progress Energy seeking an emergency injunction against the construction of massive power poles in the historic downtown district.

Members of the Apalachicola Area Historical Society as well as several businesspeople and city residents sued Progress Energy after the corporation refused to discuss alternatives such as burying the utility lines or finding another route. On Nov. 16, the Apalachicola City Commission asked Progress Energy for a 90-day halt in construction so other solutions could be found, but the company has refused to stop work.

The lawsuit filed Wednesday in Apalachicola asks the Franklin County Circuit Court to issue a temporary injunction preventing Progress Energy from installing any additional poles for 90 days. The lawsuit says Progress Energy’s plans conflict with federal, state and local rules governing the protection of historical areas. The National Park Service has placed Apalachicola on the National Register of Historic Sites and Places, and the state of Florida has designated the town an “area of critical state concern.”

The lawsuit cites a March 10, 2011, letter that Florida’s Division of Historical Resources sent to Progress Energy and other officials. The state said the company’s plans appear to be inconsistent with the Coastal Zone Management Act, which serves to protect the historic resources of Florida, as well as other applicable federal laws.

“It is the opinion of this agency that the transmission line rebuild within the current existing easement will have a significant adverse effect on the Apalachicola Historic District and some of the other historic properties in Apalachicola,” wrote Laura A. Kammerer, a state historic preservationist. “Apalachicola was one of Florida’s most important Gulf coast ports, and the Apalachicola Historic District is very significant because it encompasses most of the 1836 town plan and a remarkable concentration of 19th and early 20th century residential and commercial buildings.”

Located 75 miles southwest of Tallahassee, the popular tourist town is famous for its world-class oysters. Apalachicola Bay produces 90 percent of Florida’s oysters and 10 percent of the nation’s supply. But long before oysters put the town on the map, Apalachicola was the capital of another important industry: cotton.

In the 1820s and 1830s, Apalachicola was the third-largest cotton port on the Gulf Coast, behind New Orleans and Mobile. Later, the town would play important roles in the lumber trade as well as the harvesting of sponges off the Florida coast.

Today, tourists flock to the downtown district to soak up this rich history and to savor its aesthetic charm and beauty. Apalachicola residents and business owners say the placement of Progress Energy’s industrial power poles will ruin that.

Protests against the utility giant’s plans have escalated in recent weeks. Members of the historical society created a website, www.saveapalach.com, encouraging viewers to contact Bill Johnson, chairman and chief executive of Progress Energy, and Vincent Dolan, chief executive of Progress Energy in Florida, to request that the power lines in the city be run underground.

On Nov. 19, more than 100 citizens and local officials walked through downtown in a mock funeral procession behind a horse-drawn caisson holding a flag-draped coffin. Citizens here say the monster transmission towers, which weigh 30,000 pounds and loom nearly 100 feet in the air, will kill the charm and character of the historic town that boasts about 900 landmark buildings and homes.

The mammoth poles in Apalachicola are not for the electrical usage of this small community of 2,400. Instead, the transmission lines are carrying 115 kilovolts (kV) of electricity to connect Progress’ power grid throughout Florida.

The utility giant also is under scrutiny elsewhere in the state. Progress Energy was forced to idle its nuclear-power plant in Crystal River, Fla., due to its botched repairs. The company now wants its 1.6 million Florida customers to help pay part of the $2.5 billion cost to fix its mistakes there.

Progress Energy, based in Raleigh, N.C., is pushing to finalize by year-end its merger with Charlotte, N.C.-based Duke Energy, a deal valued at $26 billion. The deal would create the largest utility in the United States.


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