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Power lines find no paths of least resistance

Objections come from various sources

Sept. 14, 2011

The list of potential routes for two new American Transmission Co. high-voltage power lines has been narrowed to four, but one of those paths would be too close for comfort for one Wauwatosa family.

"A transmission line would go in the right of way through our front yard," Jenny Wisniewski said during a public information session on the project Monday at the Civic Center. "Having two small children, I'm not willing to put them at risk."

Jenny and her husband, John, who live on Walnut Road, are concerned about potential health risks associated with electro-magnetic fields. Plans call for burying lines four feet underground in that area.

Other drawbacks include removing a number of old growth trees and a possibility of decreased property values along the street.

"It would drastically change the charm and aesthetics of neighborhood, Jenny Wisniewski said.

The couple learned of the project aimed at improving electric system reliability in the western part of Milwaukee County about a year ago. Since then, they've followed ATC's route analysis and made residents of the Fisher Woods neighborhood aware they could soon be living near a high-voltage power line.

Finding the right path

Electric demand in the U.S. Highway 45 corridor is expected to double as soon as 2016 due to development and residential customers using more power than ever before, said Cathy Schulze, We Energies spokeswoman. The transmission lines would connect to a new We Energies substation next to the Milwaukee County power plant at 93rd Street and Watertown Plank Road.

ATC looked at dozens of possible path and came up with a final four options based on costs, environmental impacts, construction barriers and accessibility, said Mary Carpenter, local relations representative.

"That helped us zero in on the routes that make the most sense," she said.

This project is unusual in three ways: it calls for two lines; it's a short line being installed in a densely populated area; and route options call for burying lines in several places.

Due to the power needs of Froedtert and Children's hospitals - both level 1 trauma centers - the second line will be in place to ensure a back-up power supply is available, Carpenter said. To that end, one of the lines will be buried underground so it couldn't be knocked down or frozen during winter weather.

Burying lines, which costs significantly more than overhead lines, has been proposed in residential areas where space is tight. Lines could be buried under streets, but it would be up to city engineers to determine if there is enough space underneath, Carpenter said.

Hard to satisfy everyone

The Wisniewskis expressed frustration that, as homeowners, they "are up against corporate power," including from We Energies, the medical campus and even the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, which has development on the County Grounds driving a big piece of that demand.

Each of the proposed routes is contentious, and with two 2-mile lines going in, one group or another is not going to be happy, John Wisniewski said.

For instance, Milwaukee Riverkeeper and Friends of the Monarch Trail don't want to see aerial lines through the County Grounds, because they could impede on migrating butterflies and birds and adversely impact the newly restored and naturalized portion of Underwood Creek.

UW-Milwaukee and the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center have expressed opposition to overhead lines passing through their properties.

However, residents of the area between 92nd and 95th streets along Bluemound Road have come up with another alternative based on the results of a study commissioned by Milwaukee Montessori School.

Burying an ATC line with two additional power lines that will already need to be relocated during the upcoming Zoo Interchange reconstruction project will save money and protect the neighborhood, according to the group.

Daniel Sage, assistant administrator with the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin, heard from all of those parties. But there was also a contingent who believed the need for power and its potential to spur further development far outweighed any of the concerns cited, he said.

The next step is for the company to file an application with the Public Service Commission in early 2012. Review by a team including environmentalists, economists and engineers could take up to a year, resulting in the PSC selecting the final two routes.

"This is the end of the company's process," Sage said. "Once they file the application it becomes our process."

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