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City panel opposes power lines over natural spaces

Full council has yet to take stand on matter

Jan. 27, 2012

Wauwatosa is preparing for a fight over a plan that would place power lines in neighborhoods and green spaces.

The city made its first move Tuesday when the Community Development Committee voted 6-1 to support a resolution opposing two of the possible high-voltage power line routes: Route A (along Walnut Road from about 120th Street through the County Grounds) and Route B (along Underwood Creek Parkway from the County Grounds to 120th Street or potentially routing a portion of this line between 120th and 115th streets through a natural section of Underwood Creek).

The decision came after nearly three hours of discussion that included comments by many of the more than 100 people who turned out to protest the four route options chosen by American Transmission Co. The full Common Council will take up the resolution next week.

If approved, it will be used as a platform by a Madison attorney the city has retained to represent its interests through the regulatory process, City Attorney Alan Kesner said.

Written by Alderman Dennis McBride, the resolution also opposes any route that would place power lines "along or through parks and parkways, the Oak Leaf Trail, or high-quality wetlands and natural areas owned and managed by Milwaukee County or the city of Wauwatosa, or the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District." In addition, the document calls for burying any transmission lines along Underwood Creek Parkway.

Recognizing need for power

McBride asked ATC to hold off on filing its plan with the state Public Service Commission, the authority on power line placement, so city and company officials could brainstorm alternatives together.

"We're for the power" he said. "We just want it to be put responsibly into the community."

At this time, there's a growing need for electricity on the County Grounds, and the existing substation is projected to reach its capacity in 2016, said Andy Gumm, We Energies siting manager. Plans call for a new energy substation at 93rd Street and Watertown Plank Road and two high-voltage power lines, so if one fails there is backup service available.

A possibility exists to bury the lines beneath Watertown Plank Road when its reconstructed as part of the Zoo Interchange project, said Pete Holz, ATC routing manager. Initially the state Department of Transportation ruled out the option, but they have since rescinded that decision and have been looking into the option. To be prepared, ATC has started investigating the existing utilities around and underneath the roadway.

However, that is not one of the four options being put forth.

Cost vs. benefits

Other options - including any option that buries line - increase the cost exponentially, and ATC has a responsibility to present the lowest-cost option to the PSC, Holtz said. Since the cost of the project in Wauwatosa will be spread among We Energies' 5 million ratepayers statewide, many people who don't live in the area will be expected to chip in.

Tosan William Gonwa argued that not only would Wauwatosa pay greatly in the form of reduced property values and quality of life, but the businesses demanding the power - for example, Children's and Froedtert hospitals and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee's Innovation Park - serve customers regionally and statewide.

On average, he said, he and his other Underwood Parkway neighbors have properties valued $30,000 higher than those on the next block.

"That's because I live along a park," Gonwa said. "I don't live on a utility corridor."

Wauwatosa prides itself on being a community of beautiful neighborhoods and a place to raise healthy families - and power lines don't fit into that picture, many residents said.

No perfect solution

But just burying the lines is not the right option, either, some said. In fact, plans call for doing that in front of Walnut Road resident Jenny Wisniewski's yard. The 50-foot pine and 30-foot birch trees in her yard and crab apple trees that line the street would have to come down.

"We're an underground route, but it would devastate the neighborhood by tearing down all the trees," she said. "The appearance of the street would be that of one that has seen a tornado rip through it."

Transmission lines don't belong in established neighborhoods, Wisniewski added.

Mary Carpenter, ATC local relations representative, said her company will submit the plans to the PSC within the next three weeks, adding that the comments made during the meeting were all ones she's heard before.

"We've received hundreds of comments and inquiries in the past 18 months," she said. "The route options take those into account."

While residents in attendance seemed to be of one voice, Alderwoman Jacqueline Jay said she had to represent the businesses in her district - which are the ones driving the increased need for power. She provided the one dissenting vote.

"It's fantastic that we need power," she said. "It means we're economically growing."

Other routes controversial, too

The two other proposed routes are located along residential 92nd Street and 95th Street, home to St. Therese Parish and the Montessori School of Milwaukee. Wauwatosa residents who attend the church and send their kids to the school urged the committee to expand its resolution to include burying the lines that are proposed to go up on overhead towers on the Milwaukee border.

The city of Milwaukee Common Council passed a resolution asking that any lines be buried on Route C along 95th Street.

The Milwaukee County Parks, Energy and Environment Committee supported a resolution submitted by Supervisor Jim "Luigi" Schmitt, who represents Wauwatosa, and the entire County Board will take up the issue Feb. 2.

TOSA TALKS

The following comments were made about the proposed power lines plan during the Community Development Committee meeting:

"This isn't a group of NIMBYs - not in my back yard - they're all concerned about the good of all of Wauwatosa."

- Alderwoman Cheryl Berdan

"It's bad precedent. We don't have all that much green space left. What we do have, let's keep it green."

- Pete Overholt, resident of the Underwood Parkway area

"Is our legacy going to be (that) we were the ones that destroyed the parkway?"

- Alderwoman Linda Nikcevich

"The customers served by that substation are quite critical to the area."

- Andy Gumm, We Energies

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