Both Sides of the Fence

A Tosa resident since 1991, Christine walks the dog, cooks but avoids housework, writes and reads, and enjoys the company of friends and strangers. Her job takes her around the state, learning about people's health. A Quaker (no, they don't wear blue hats or sell oatmeal or motor oil), she has been known to stand on both sides of the political and philosophic fence at the same time, which is very uncomfortable when you think about it. She writes about pretty much whatever stops in to visit her busy mind at the moment. One reader described her as "incredibly opinionated but not judgmental." That sounds like a good thing to strive for!

Power lines issue is pivotal for Wauwatosa

Preserve our Parkway, transmission lines, Wauwatosa Community Development Committee, Wauwatosa, environment, ATC, PSC

All around the country, people are waking up to find towers, boxes, and other energy-related structures in their backyards. Or in the case of people like our Walnut Street neighbors, in their front yards. Or in the case of people who live along parks and parkways like the Underwood Creek Parkway as I do, right there on the land that has been paid for by taxpayers and preserved for all to enjoy.

That’s an exaggeration of course. When a company like the American Transmission Company wants to run high power electrical transmission lines through Wisconsin towns, hired by WE Energies, they spend a lot of time researching the cheapest and easiest routes. Then they spend a long time holding meetings at which they listen to angry people and answer questions. At the end of this time, they go ahead and present what they’d planned to do anyway, with little attention to any of the “input” they’ve received. Then the Public Service Commission, three mysterious people who live in protected towers or silos somewhere in Madison, look at the plans and the letters they’ve gotten, hear some more testimony, and make a decree.

Tonight (Tuesday, January 31) the Wauwatosa Community Development Committee is considering voted with only one dissenting vote to send on to the council  (added later) a resolution aimed at protecting neighborhoods, parks, and parkways from being substantially altered and diminished by these structures. The meeting starteds at 8, public comments will be were heard, and it was will be a chance to see how wonderful your neighbors and your elected representatives can be.

The resolution also is an important step for Wauwatosa to take in being proactive in protecting our community. As with most smaller cities, deciding before the crisis hits has been a weakness here, identified in the Wauwatosa Economic Development Vision, Structure and Implementation Plan, 2009:

The city of Wauwatosa is in “maintenance Mode.”

Until recently, the city of Wauwatosa has not conceived of itself as a community whose future depends on thoughtful, targeted and strategic redevelopment. . .

The Common council evaluates redevelopment projects with an ad hoc and subjective standards. (case by case basis).

Deciding what we value and how to protect it starts with moments like this. Thinking about land use in this important battle also gives us a chance to open the conversation about the limits of being driven purely by economic development. Making sure  homes, neighborhoods, community, and the environment are given full weight as the city evolves is equally important.

Please note: no one involved is trying to stop the transmission lines project, which aims to feed power into the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center campus and the research parks around it. The goal is to find routes that do the least damage to our community. Sometimes that may mean going underground, which is more expensive. However, keep in mind that the cost is spread across the state and is not ours alone. So we are talking about pennies.

Other times it means picking different routes. Burying lines under roads or running above-ground lines along commercial areas and highways saves plant and animal life, beauty, and property values. Imagine all the trees mowed down, making a scar 80 feet wide that’s kept clear except for low-lying shrubs, along your neighborhood street or parkway. It changes the flavor of the community utterly and for the worse. So wherever you live, this is your issue, too.

Many of us believe the parks and green spaces need special protection. No overhead lines, and no buried lines there either. They are there for the generations, not to provide easy routes for utilities, which don’t have to pay to take the right of way. If they want your house, at least they have to pay for it.

The Council has been doing wonderful work – and a lot of it -- on drafting a resolution similar to one that’s already moving along to the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors. I’d especially like to thank my alders, Don Birschel and Cheryl Berdan, and alder Dennis McBride, though others are as invested in this as they are, and supervisor Jim Luigi Schmitt for spearheading the county resolution. So have the neighbors on the west side who I’ve talked about before and those around 95th Street, whose neighborhoods also would be affected.  

Please join us. Democracy is what all of us make, not just those at the top. At the local level, it can be inspiring.

(Excuse all the bolding but this is long and I wanted to make it easy for the skimmers out there!)





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