Six route options have been presented for a towering electrical transmission line across the Santee Delta, but all are overly intrusive to this unspoiled area. Federal officials who will decide which project gets financing should consider another option that is far less destructive. So should the utilities that want to provide improved service to the McClellanville area.

That would require upgrading the existing distribution line serving McClellanville and Awendaw from the south. The existing right of way offers a better route than other options listed for the project, all of which would cross protected habitat for endangered and protected species.

SCE&G currently serves the area in question, and its spokesman tells us that the utility is prepared to work toward an agreement that would improve existing service as an alternative to bringing a transmission line across the Santee Delta.

"SCE&G is ready to assist, as requested, to provide reliable service in the region, while taking into consideration the various concerns of all stakeholders," says Keller Kissam, president of retail operations for SCE&G.

"I believe that all regional energy providers will work together to broker an acceptable solution," he added.

That would include Central Electric Power Cooperative, which would build the transmission line across the Delta, and Berkeley Electric Cooperative, which would provide electricity to the service area. The transmission towers would be 75-100 feet tall.

Mr. Kissam says that the process ideally would have the utilities mutually examine the problem "so that a clear, 'least intrusive' option emerges." And while the project's expense would be taken into consideration, Mr. Kissam tells us that cost would not be the deciding factor.

The SCE&G option was abandoned early in the process because it was estimated to cost too much, without ensuring reliable service to the same extent as a new transmission line.

But Natalie Olson, land use project manager for the Coastal Conservation League, contends that the project cost could be significantly lowered with some modifications. Ideally, an upgrade to the existing distribution system, supplemented by solar panels, could ensure power reliability in the area, Ms. Olson says.

In a recent letter to the editor, Anne Knight Watson of McClellanville said she'd rather keep the existing system, even if it's not always dependable, than "violate the pristine Santee Delta" with a massive transmission system.

She urged the public to further speak out on the project by writing federal officials before the public comment period closes on Thursday.

Comments on the project can be sent to:

Rural Utilities Service,

84 Coxe Ave., Suite 1E,

Asheville, N.C. 28801.

Letters may be postmarked as late as July 3 to meet the deadline.

And there is an email address to which comments also may be sent - lauren.mcgee@wdc.usda.gov - before the deadline.

The public response to the six options was overwhelmingly negative in the recent public hearing in McClellanville. Those who agree that the pristine Santee Delta shouldn't be spoiled with a towering transmission system should join their ranks and strengthen the opposition with letters and emails.

It would give a heightened incentive for federal officials and the electrical co-ops to look further afield than the Santee Delta as they consider how to provide more dependable electrical service.

There already is a better option.