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Council endorses Walnut Road power line route

Underwood Parkway option is cheaper; PSC has the final say

Sept. 19, 2012

The Wauwatosa Common Council threw its support behind an underground high-tension electricity line route that would run under Walnut Road and Watertown Plank Road to a substation on the County Grounds.

The endorsement was approved, 10-4, after a lively debate, with council members John Dubinski, Jill Organ, Cheryl Berdan and Donald Birschel voting "no."

The Public Service Commission will decide the route after hearings that begin Oct. 15, making Wauwatosa's preference only advisory. A final decision will be made by March 30.

The option supported by Wauwatosa has an estimated cost of more than $21 million; the cheapest option, which would be overhead wiring along Underwood Parkway, would cost an estimated $6.7 million, and cost is one of the strongest factors considered by the PSC.

"We are in the completely unenviable position of making one neighborhood unhappy, and they're both beautiful neighborhoods," said Alderman Dennis McBride.

The city's best chance to sway the PSC toward a more expensive option is to ally itself with the county, which opposes the parkway route - on county property - and with We Energies, which has said it supports an underground line, he said.

"We must make a decision; we can't wait any longer," he said.

Alderwoman Cheryl Berdan said she could not support the resolution because choosing an expensive option is unwise and because the cost figures, provided by the builder, American Transmission Co., were not sufficient.

"We can never get solid numbers," she said.

Alderman Donald Birschel said he had worked out a number of options himself. He asked the council to not endorse a route and allow him to submit to the PSC three other options, along with the Walnut Road route, for the PSC's consideration.

Alderwoman Jill Organ argued for lines buried along Watertown Plank Road the full length of the route, and Alderman John Dubinski asked how much it would cost to bury the line under Underwood Parkway.

Watertown Plank Road has a number of obstacles and soil issues that make burying a line chancy, City Attorney Alan Kesner said, adding that he can't provide figures on an underground route under the parkway.

"Parkways go through most of our districts," said Alderman Jason Wilke. Winning a route that doesn't disturb a parkway would set a precedent that may protect parkways in the future.

"We may lose," he said, "but at least I'll know we asked for better in Wauwatosa."

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