YORK COUNTY, Pa. — Fifty York County properties could be underwater in the coming years if a Pennsylvania energy company gets its way.
The company wants to build a multi-billion hydroelectric power plant near the Susquehanna River, but it means dozens of homes would face a watery grave.
A renewable source of electricity, York Energy Storage owner William McMahon says the $2.1 billion pump storage hydropower reservoir system could eliminate blackouts and brownouts across the country.
McMahon says he's been part of studies dating back to the 1970s that suggest this area in Chanceford Township is the best location in the region.
"Lake Clarke, it's part of the Susquehanna River, that's a lake that's about [a] mile wide and ten miles long. It's a perfect lower reservoir for what we're trying to do," said McMahon.
The project would pull water from the Susquehanna River 450 feet up the hill to a new 580-acre reservoir.
That water could be used to generate and store 850 megawatts of electricity in the proposed underground plant, almost as much energy as a nuclear power plant.
The Lower Susquehanna River Keepers Association opposes the plan.
"From the Chesapeake Bay all the way up to the York Haven Dam, we have a series of four hydroelectric dams that are producing a lot of power. Pennsylvania is a net explorer of energy," said Ted Evgniadis, the executive director of the Lower Susquehanna River Keepers Association.
"The energy that's going to be produced here, where it is going to go? Are we going to be using it here? No," Evgniadis continued.
The project would sink roughly 50 properties, leveling 39 homes to make way for the massive reservoir.
"It will affect the people in that area. We regret that, but the things that we need to really understand is that this project will probably benefit millions of people," said McMahon.
Farmer Jake Horton lives on 70 acres in Chanceford Township. He and his family have been here for more than two decades, with the threat of losing the farm looming over their heads.
"Easy for him to say when it's digging his backyard. Let's go knock on his door and say, 'Hey, we're going to flood you out, put 30 feet above your house, take everything you own and give you pennies on the dollar for it, in a sense.' Good luck, is all I have to say," said Horton.
It's the fourth time the project has been proposed in the last four decades.
It would claim David Imhoff's six-acre property too. He's fought the plan every time it's brought up, believing it's an antiquated source of energy that will be outdated by the time to project is complete.
"This was a bad idea when they first started it and it's still a bad idea environmentally and economically," said Imhoff from Chanceford Township.
Conservationists are concerned the project could hurt outdoor recreation in the area.
"The Mason Dixon trail would most likely have to be diverted around or possibly even cut off if they can't come up with a route around this project," said Winand.
McMahon says his company would create new trails and protect wildlife during the project. He claims it would help the company, creating 300 temporary and 25 permanent jobs while lowering taxes.
"Those would be major benefits that will go for years and years for many people, offsetting what we feel is an inconvenience to the people that live there right now," said McMahon.
York Energy Storage applied for a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission permit but doesn't expect to hear back for at least four months. If accepted, the necessary studies would take approximately four years, followed by five years of construction.
Chanceford Township residents plan to stand against the project, again.
"It's going to be a battle," said Horton.