Calhoun & Associates was the real estate appraiser for the property owner in this case.


By DIRK LAMMERS Tribune Staff Writer


David won a round against Goliath on Thursday. So said an attorney for the Hillsborough County property owners who won a $2.19 million jury award in their fight with Florida Power Corp., which is trying to clear a 44-mile corridor for 125-foot electrical transmission towers.

The award is three times what the utility had offered as compensation for land along the path of a 500,000-volt transmission line that will stretch from Kathleen in Polk County to Lake Tarpon in Pinellas County.

“”You’re talking about two individuals going up against one of the two biggest utility companies in Florida,” said Marc Sachs of the Tampa firm Brigham, Moore, Gaylord, Wilson, Ulmer, Schuster & Sachs.

He said his clients, Robert and Earl Diez, were ecstatic with the verdict.

“”I think it sends a clear message that they should be more realistic and more fair with property owners,” Sachs said of Florida Power.

Company spokesman Rick Janka said that although Florida Power was unhappy with the decision, at least the jury rejected the $3.3 million amount the Diez family and Wayne Jennings had sought.

“”We’re disappointed with it of course, but it was better than it could have been,” he said. “”This is just a milestone to reach in many steps to get this power line built.”

The utility had offered the Diezes and Jennings $712,000 for land it wants to buy for the corridor and as compensation for adjacent property affected by the transmission lines. About 1,600 acres were involved. The corridor follows the path of existing transmission lines but will require some 90 feet of additional easement.

The lawsuit decided Thursday was only the first in a series of condemnation actions between Florida Power and landowners. Jurors in the four-day trial before Hillsborough Circuit Court Judge J. Rogers Padgett deliberated about four hours.

Continuous legal battles have put the now $50-million project about $20 million over budget and more than a year behind schedule, Janka said. Florida Power officials have said they need the 500,000-volt line as a source of backup power to avoid blackouts in Pinellas County.

Residents have been fighting the route of the transmission line since it was proposed in 1984.

Opponents of the line have said they are worried about radiation emitted from the lines, which would pass within 100 feet of 400 homes in north Hillsborough County. Florida Power officials have said evidence of such health risks is inconclusive.

Attorneys for both sides in the trial were reasonably close on how much the utility should pay property owner for land on which to erect the towers. However, they strongly disagreed on what would be fair compensation for the negative effects on property adjacent to the 125-foot tall structures.

Florida Power’s attorney argued that land more than 300 feet from the path was not affected, while attorneys for the landowners said an arbitrary line could not be drawn.

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