PSC presides over power line debate

Published on: 11/28/2012

Two dozen speakers addressed a full house in a lively public hearing on a route for a new power line at City Hall on Tuesday night.

During a recess, representatives of American Transmission Co., which will build the power line, said the company's preferred route was Route B3, which would be an overhead line beginning at Underwood Parkway and 120th Street, and following the parkway and a county bike trail before crossing to Innovation Park, where it would travel underground to a planned new substation near the Wisconsin Electric power plant off Watertown Plank Road.

Cost and impact are the determining factors in selecting a route, said ATC Communications Manager Anne Spaltholz, who, with ATC Project Manager Bill Aeschbacher, described the favored route.

At an estimated cost of $12.7 million, it is not the cheapest option - that would be an all-overhead line following a similar route, estimated at $6.7 million. But it is much less expensive than a city-endorsed option, a $21.3 million plan that would have the lines underground along Walnut Road, overhead along Mayfair Road, and buried again along Watertown Plank to the substation.

The state Public Service Commission will determine a route after it finishes gathering testimony. It is expected to issue a decision by March, Spaltholz said.

The public hearing, lasting almost three hours, shaped up to a face-off between Preserve Our Parkway, a group of parkway residents and their supporters, and a group wearing 'I Support Walnut Road Neighbors' badges, who at one point sent up seven speakers in a row with written scripts and photographs mounted on poster board.

The Underwood Parkway residents said the vegetation of the parkway would be damaged under construction of a power line and their views would be spoiled - the line would be visible out their front windows.

Green space and open areas have diminished in her 43 years in the area, Kathleen Hanson said.

'As far as I'm concerned, it is just wrong to put power lines in parks and urban wilderness areas,' she said.

John Novotny said the parks and parkways were entrusted to the public for preservation. While he supported the construction of a power line to ensure power for the Milwaukee County Regional Medical Complex, which he said benefits the entire state, he urged the PSC to 'dismiss Route B and bury the lines.'

Walnut Road resident Jenny Wisniewski said environmental degradation was as big a problem with building a power line on Walnut Road as it would be on Underwood Parkway.

She presented the options as equally bad, and said it was the 'vibrant neighborhood' the city should be concerned with preserving.

'Is it a bike path that would be saved? By saving the bike path on Route B, another section of that same bike path on Section 3, of Route A, would be sacrificed.

'Is it a wetland that would be saved? By saving the wetland west of Mayfair Road, the wetland east of Mayfair Road would be sacrificed,' she said.

Even if the route is buried, she said, 'The structures needed to bring power underground would be more invasive to our neighborhood than the neighborhoods on any other route,' she said.

She also asserted a Route B option, along Underwood Parkway, would be less expensive.

The public hearing was preceded by a technical hearing of parties of interest in the case, which began at 9:30 a.m. In a courtroom-like proceeding, ATC attorneys, PSC staff and attorneys representing other parties, including the city of Wauwatosa, questioned those who had submitted written testimony in the case.

City Development Director Paulette Enders was questioned by Trevor Will, an attorney representing ATC, on specific plans or timetables for development projects that she was aware of that would be harmed by power lines crossing the property.

'It would take longer to develop' such a property, Enders said.

The technical hearing, which was interrupted by public hearings at 1 and 6 p.m., was to continue Wednesday in Madison.