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Uniting opposition may be city’s best bet

Tosa still debating powerline options

June 27, 2012

The decision about where to put power lines stands with the state Public Service Commission, a body that is unpredictable but typically gives costs a priority in consideration to all its ratepayers.

The best strategy to prevent a completely objectionable route is to find one the city can live with and get the other parties involved in the case on board, City Attorney Alan Kesner told the Community Development Committee on Tuesday.

At this point, engineering consultants have pointed to an alternative that would bury the line under Walnut Road from 120th .

This differs a bit from the option proposed by American Transmission Co., which calls for running the line through the right-of-way in front of homes along Walnut, tearing out trees and prohibiting new plantings along the route.

"That would be devastating for that area," Kesner said.

In addition, the alternative calls for cutting through Underwood Parkway to Watertown Plank Road, where it would be buried under the street until it reaches the We Energies property. This would prevent overhead lines from entering the property off Highway 45 and Watertown Plank Road where the Milwaukee County garage and a Milwaukee Regional Medical Complex storage building are located.

The county is interested in redeveloping this property and overhead lines would jeopardize economic development opportunities, he said.

The city has made data requests, which require ATC to provide information on the record about the feasibility of seven route alternatives. In addition to the Walnut Road changes, there are options that look at burying the entire line under Watertown Plank Road and some that would connect to a power source north at Burleigh Street and Highway 45.

"All these intervening parties have their own interests but we all recognized we'd be best off to all back one route," the city attorney said.

Each of those options looks to have hurdles, but ATC will have to "give us the nitty-gritty details" about how difficult they would be to overcome, Kesner said.

Those answers are due July 10. ATC then has until July 19 to submit written testimony backing their proposed options from the west - one along Walnut Road and a second along Underwood Parkway - to the commission. A southern route is also required to provide a backup power source, but since proposed routes are in Milwaukee, Wauwatosa is putting more focus on the western line, Kesner said.

Numerous residents spoke against putting power lines in the Walnut Road neighborhood citing potential health risks and aesthetic issues. To take the lines underground, three large towers called drop-down structures, would be erected at 120th Street.

"That is a key to the opposition," said Mark Walters, a resident living adjacent to the property. "They are very close to the lot lines."

Resident Jenny Wisniewski agreed, calling them intrusive industrial towers that people will see from their bedroom windows.

If the commission is looking for the least expensive option, why would it consider Walnut Road, she asked?

If the street were opened up to install power lines, there may be need to move around or replace existing infrastructure, which would prove costly, said Alderman Don Birschel. He and Alderwoman Cheryl Berdan represent the district and neither one supported a route through a residential neighborhood.

Resident Mary Rose Armstrong provided one possible ray of hope, suggesting engineers look at taking the connection to North Avenue and burying the line under that road, which is a commercial area.

Alderman Greg Walz-Chojnacki liked the idea of exploring the feasibility of a North Avenue route but he said time is ticking and the Walnut Road option looks like a compromise.

"We can't just oppose, we have to propose," he said.

However, Berdan felt the city was "not anywhere ready to come to any kind of conclusion, any kind of concensus" right now.

After discussing litigation strategy in closed session, the committee held the issue for two weeks in hopes of getting some answers from ATC.

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