Residents try to zap powerline plan through Star Prairie townshipA group of residents from the Town of Star Prairie is trying to block the construction of an electrical transmission line through the area.
By: Jeff Holmquist, New Richmond News
A group of residents from the Town of Star Prairie is trying to block the construction of an electrical transmission line through the area.
At a special meeting of the electors May 25, a large crowd was on hand to push for one possible roadblock to the plan.
The residents voted 68-1 on a resolution asking the Star Prairie Town Board to deny any requests for development on public lands, especially as it concerns the old town hall property and the Johannesburg Town Park along the Apple River. If the town board agrees, any development on public property would need to be approved by a vote of the residents.
According to the preliminary route for the 69 kV line, Xcel Energy is requesting that poles be placed along the fence near the town hall and the park and beach.
In introducing the residents’ request, Janet D’Ambrosio referred to the town’s recently completed comprehensive plan.
The plan calls for the preservation of the town’s scenic resources and the preservation of historic structures, the protection of wetlands, the protection of environmentally sensitive areas and the preservation of wildlife habitat, she explained.
“These ideals cannot simply be something written on a piece of paper,” D’Ambrosio said. “It’s important for us to protect what we have here. That’s the purpose of that plan.”
The plan also states that the Apple River corridor is “easily the most clearly identified resource in the town,” D’Ambrosio said. The 80-foot-high powerline would cross the Apple on the south side of the Johannesburg bridge.
D’Ambrosio said residents remain concerned about the powerline proposal because the plans keep changing. She claimed some pole locations have apparently been moved 10 to 15 feet in the past few weeks.
Even though Xcel officials have assured the town that the park would not be impacted by the powerline, resident Tom Harder has his doubts. He thinks the poles and the expanding easements needed for the line would have a great impact.
“I think it’s going to take quite a bit of your park,” he told the board.
D’Ambrosio said no matter where the line ends up, the use of the park and beach would be lessened.
“Nobody is going to want to swim under a 69 kV line,” she said. “This (the swimming beach) is a tradition in this township. That’s a piece of the culture for many families here.”
Town board members questioned the residents’ request that a referendum be conducted every time public property is involved in development. Chairman Doug Rivard said a vote would be required if a shelter were proposed for a park, or if a new park is planned.
Supervisor Steve Lewis said a special meeting of the electors to discuss a development request might be a better idea. A referendum would cost considerable money as a special election would have to be called.
The approved resolution will be added to the next town board meeting agenda. The board will consider the matter and decide if they want to tweak the specifics of how a vote of the residents would be conducted.
Town residents used the opportunity to again complain about the process used for the siting of the new powerline. Many believe the 69kV line should follow a route along Highway 64, where few homeowners would be affected.
Xcel officials have previously claimed that such a route wasn’t possible, due to height restrictions related to the New Richmond Regional Airport and due to issues of bringing the line through the City of New Richmond.
Resident Terry Moore wondered why the Wisconsin Public Service Commission hasn’t been available to attend some of the meetings where residents have complained.
“They haven’t done a stinking thing,” he said. “There’s no excuse in the world why they couldn’t come up here. No ‘public,’ no ‘service’ ... you might as well not have a commission.”
Town Attorney Tim Scott cautioned residents that their ideas to try and stop the powerline could make a difference in the fight against Xcel’s plans, but it could be also be too late.
Scott said the Public Service Commission could decide that the appeal process is over and the powerline could move ahead anyway.
Scott did recommend that the residents consider hiring an attorney to help fight the process.
“It ups the ante if you hire an attorney,” he said, noting that officials pay more attention if a lawyer is involved.
As if on cue, a Madison attorney who specializes in powerline siting cases was on hand after the meeting to answer residents’ questions. Frank Jablonski worked with a group in the St. Croix Falls and Taylors Falls area to bury transmission lines that crossed the St. Croix River.
In researching the proposed $15 million Town of Star Prairie line, Jablonski said he questions whether the current route makes sense. PSC guidelines call for such transmission lines to run along “existing corridors” when possible.
Jablonski said he doesn’t believe an existing corridor exists along County Road C. If the powerline is eventually constructed along the route, he warned, it will be simple for the power company to upgrade the line to a 138 kV or 345 kV line in the future.
“Once they’ve got the corridor, they’ve got the corridor,” he explained. “They (the powerlines) get big, they get ugly and they get hazardous.”
In reviewing the documents that Xcel has filed in the case, Jablonski said efforts to find alternative routes were “thin” and bolsters the residents’ request that the PSC re-open the powerline case.
It’s a concern, Jablonski said, that Xcel continues to work on the substation in the Town of Star Prairie, even though the route has yet to be approved.
By spending more money, he suggested, the energy company could argue that too much has been invested to change plans now.
Chairman Rivard noted earlier in the meeting that Xcel has failed to apply for and receive the necessary building permit for the substation project.
Jablonski outlined his fees, and possible avenues for action, with residents before wrapping up.