Round number two

Hank Hayes • Sep 11, 2017 at 8:30 AM

KINGSPORT – It’s déjà vu all over again.

This isn’t the first time the area around the new Sullivan County consolidated high school has been contested turf.

Today, Kingsport Power says it has the right to supply power to the new high school and it is attempting to block Bristol Tennessee Essential Services’ bid to be the electricity provider.

Kingsport Power, doing business as investor-owned AEP Appalachian Power (AEP), has filed a petition with the Tennessee Public Utility Commission (TPUC) seeking resolution of a boundary dispute brought about by placement of electric power distribution facilities by Bristol Tennessee Essential Services (BTES) on property intended for the new high school.

But the petition also reveals some history about the area.

In the late 1980s, according to the petition, a controversy arose among Kingsport Power, BTES and the Johnson City Power Board over the right of Kingsport Power to expand its services into areas Kingsport had annexed. That controversy involved what was then known as the Steadman Farm property lying between Tri-Cities Airport and Interstate 81. Kingsport had acquired the Steadman Farm property, which was served to some degree by BTES, for economic development purposes. Kingsport Power gave notice it would expand its services into the new Steadman Farm site pursuant to its exclusive franchise with Kingsport, the petition noted.

BTES and the Johnson City Power Board, both distributors of Tennessee Valley Authority electricity, opposed Kingsport Power’s move by having legislation introduced in the General Assembly to block the expansion.

The three power suppliers negotiated, but did not reach a final agreement, the petition pointed out. Finally, the leaders of the power companies entered into a Feb. 16, 1989 letter of agreement that none of them would extend service beyond their “current geographic territories.”

Dr. Mike Browder, BTES’ CEO, signed that 1989 letter of agreement, but he is now saying the school property is within an area his utility has a right to serve.

“We pride ourselves on being the local provider for our community. This area is outside of Kingsport Power’s service area because Kingsport Power has never served the precise parcel of property upon which the school buildings will be located,” Browder said in an email. “Based on how the law is written, it is our understanding that we have the right to serve this property. Our plan is to continue our partnership with Sullivan County Schools with the addition of the new high school.”

Kingsport Power reported a BTES service distribution pole was placed on the proposed school property within the past 60 days. The petition includes an attachment featuring a  Google Earth photograph showing the current location of Kingsport Power lines and the single line BTES has erected and placed on the school site. Kingsport Power was granted a 99-year franchise by the city in 1917, which expired last year but was renewed as a non-exclusive 20-year franchise. That original franchise, the petition said, permitted Kingsport Power to expand its service into areas Kingsport annexed.

A utility easement was granted to Kingsport Utilities, Kingsport Power’s predecessor company, in 1945 by J.E. and Verna Myers, according to the petition.

“Commencing in 1947, and continuing to 1986, (Kingsport Power) set poles and strung power lines into and around the Myers tract, and adjoining tracts including the area where the new school will be built,” the petition said.

“We have the legal right — and the obligation — under Tennessee statute and our long-time Sullivan County franchise to provide safe, reliable and cost-effective service for Sullivan County residents and future students in this new education facility,” said Andy Shaffron, the company’s Kingsport district manager. “We are committed to doing so. We had hoped to resolve the issue of BTES’ encroachment without having to take this step involving state commissioners. Despite numerous conversations and meetings with representatives and attorneys of the entities involved, no resolution has been reached, and BTES has not removed or expressed intentions to remove its recently-built facilities from our service area in Sullivan County.”

Kingsport Power has asked the TPUC to establish a “contested case” and to resolve the service boundary issue in its favor.

Kingsport Power  serves 47,000 customers in the city of Kingsport, portions of Sullivan, Washington and Hawkins counties, and the town of Mt. Carmel.

In addition to providing electric service, BTES provides at least a Gigabit of Internet service to every school in its service area including many schools and facilities within the Sullivan County School System.

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