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Utility supports city's buried power line route

PSC slates hearing on ATC application

Oct. 17, 2012

Wisconsin Electric Power Co. has joined forces with the City of Wauwatosa and endorsed an all-underground electric power line linking an existing north-south line along 120th Street to a substation to be built north of the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center.

Testimony before the state Public Service Commission began this week. By Tuesday, more than 300 items from dozens of sources and intervenors had been filed with the PSC, and the documents include letters, photographs, and interviews.

City officials, individual citizens, and schools are among the wide variety of parties represented.

The PSC makes the final decision on the route. Public hearings will be held at Wauwatosa City Hall on Nov. 27.

The underground route

The so-called western route endorsed by the city and WEPCO would start at 120th Street and Walnut Road, and be buried under Walnut, not alongside it, as earlier plans suggested. At the east end of Walnut, it would travel underground to Watertown Plank Road using "affordable and tested technologies, which do not require extensive directional drilling," and finally travel east under Watertown Plank and into the proposed Wisconsin Electric substation, according to a letter of support signed by WEPCO and the city.

The primary purpose of the new power line, according to PSC documents, is to meet the electrical needs of the medical center, the Milwaukee County Grounds, and other areas. Adult and pediatric trauma centers at the medical complex "require a high level of electric reliability," the PSC says.

Potential routes were extensively debated at City of Wauwatosa committee and council meetings last month. The meetings drew organized groups of citizens likely to be affected by certain routes, and pitted neighborhood against neighborhood.

The underground route described was endorsed by the Common Council as less unsightly and safer than an overhead route, and more likely to protect neighborhoods and amenities, including parks and parkways, the Oak Leaf Trail, and wetlands and natural areas, according to the letter of support.

This route is, according to some calculations, as much as twice as expensive as overhead lines, and the PSC is known to weigh cost heavily.

No environmental study

The power line is to be built and paid for by American Transmission Co., which is partly owned by WEPCO, along with other utilities.

The PSC earlier this month issued a finding that the proposed line did not warrant a full environmental impact study, declaring that route selection, and the construction practices and mitigation strategies proposed by ATC and WEPCO "could avoid or limit most long-term effects on natural and cultural resources and future land use plans for Wauwatosa and Milwaukee."

"Construction of transmission lines in urban environments … is a common occurrence," wrote Kathleen Zuelsdorff, a PSC environmental review coordinator.

The public hearings before PSC staff scheduled for Nov. 27 will be held at City Hall in the Council Chambers. Parties to the proceeding will be heard beginning at 9:30 a.m., and members of the general public will be heard starting at 1 and 6 p.m.

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