Howard Co. farm family vows to fight PEPCO

September 07, 1991|By Michael J. Clark | Michael J. Clark,Howard County Bureau of The Sun

C. Ellsworth Iager and his son, Charles, vowed a high power line would never cross the 750-acre Fulton farm that has been in their family for five generations unless it was "over our dead bodies."

Since the senior Mr. Iager died four years ago, his son and other survivors have carried on his fight against the power line Potomac Electric Power Co. plans to build on 4 1/2 acres of the farm the utility obtained by eminent domain.

And after 15 years, more than $100,000 in legal costs, and a state Court of Appeals ruling that affirmed the utility's right to the land, the Iagers remain defiant.

Last week, when Potomac Electric Power Co. told the Iagers the bulldozing and tree trimming equipment would come within weeks to clear a 150-foot-wide right of way, the family threw down the gauntlet.

"We expect to confront the bulldozers when they come," said Judy Iager, Charles' wife and a spokeswoman for the family. "I am real concerned for what will happen because I know how deep the feelings run."

Mr. Iager agreed. "It will be hard for me when they first come to let them in without saying something."

The Iagers still are contesting the $168,615 in compensation a federal jury awarded then for the right of way in December. They want at least $300,000.

Charles Iager, 49, his brother, Gene, 45, and their families,

contend the very future of the farm is threatened by the high power line, and unless PEPCO agrees to their terms, they plan to resist it.

Maple Lawn is a picturesque farm where the Iager brothers and their wives and children raise more than 10,000 turkeys, manage 400 head of Holstein cattle and grow corn, soybeans, wheat and hay.

The current spread grew from a 108-acre farm founded founded 158 years ago by Iagers, immigrants from Germany who are now buried at St. Paul's Lutheran Church cemetery just across Scaggsville Road from Maple Lawn.

Charles Iager talks about having a spiritual connection with the land. "When Gene and I are out there working the land on the tractors, we are close to God and nature," he said.

"We are true farmers who have a love of the land," Mrs. Iager said. "We feel the power line is an infringement on our love of the land. It is like a plague coming upon the farm."

The utility plans to take possession of the land and begin clearing as scheduled, said Nancy S. Moses, PEPCO's spokeswoman.

"Their neighbors had concerns, and we worked things out with them," she said. "As far as we are concerned, there is no negotiation with the Iagers. We paid the price to the court, and it is there for the Iagers to pick up."

She would not say what the utility would do if the Iagers try to stop PEPCO workers.

"We will deal with it when and if we have to deal with it," she said. "We have the legal authority and the U.S. District Court has given us a court order to take possession of the land."

PEPCO received approval from the Maryland Public Service Commission on March 5, 1980, to extend the high power line through southern Howard County.

The Washington-based utility is building the overhead line to complete a 240-mile power line loop to ensure reliable service and tie in with Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. and Virginia Power.

The Iagers and other Howard County land owners along the power line's route contested PEPCO's plans. They won what turned out to be a short-lived triumph July 5, 1988, when the Howard County Board of Appeals denied a permit for the line.

The Howard County Circuit Court reversed the board, finding that state law prohibits the local jurisdiction from regulating high power overhead lines. On May 29, 1990, the state Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court ruling.

The only issue left was compensation, and on Dec. 10, 1990, a U.S. District Court jury in Baltimore awarded the Iagers $168,615 damages from PEPCO for condemnation of 4 1/2 acres of their farm.

The Iagers have appealed the decision to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, arguing that the lower court did not consider the impact of the power lines on the entire farm, or county plans that will raise the land's value.

The Iagers have expressed fear that the lines' electric magnetic fields could damage their health and that of their animals.

"We have spent over $100,000 in legal-related costs just to try and protect ourselves from the power line coming in," Mrs. Iager said. "We have drained ourselves dry trying to mix the power line fight with farming.

"The only thing left to us was to be adequately compensated because the power line will ruin us forever and at least we felt we should get $1 million," she said. "We then reduced that to a half-million dollars and down to $300,000, but $168,000 won't cut it."

She said, "It is too bad that the issue now is coming down to money, but it really is the principle of it."

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