In a memo to members of the Common Council, City Attorney Alan Kesner explained why he and other parties to the power line controversy in west Tosa now recommend a route very close to one the city had already officially opposed.
But Kesner also warned that even though the modified alternative being proposed, which would follow residential Walnut Road, is less intrusive than the original ATC version, it is still deeply disliked by residents there.
Basically, the new proposal asks that the power lines be put under the street instead of through residents' front yards. That would preserve their trees and lawns, and bury fears about electromagnetic fields farther from homes and under pavement.
Nevertheless, a number of Walnut Road neighbors already have said they don't want the lines along their street under any circumstances, Kesner said.
The recommendation will be heard Tuesday night before the Community Development Committee. The meeting agenda notes that the committee could legally go into closed session to hear legal advice on the matter, but that seems unlikely under the circumstances, as Kesner has already laid out the case in detail in his memo and because of the public controversy surrounding the issue.
The unacceptable alternatives
Earlier this year, the council unanimously passed a resolution opposing both of two western routes proposed by American Transmission Co. to bring additional power to the County Grounds area, in particular the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center.
One of those routes – the cheapest – would have brought the lines on overhead towers along Underwood Creek Parkway. Kesner said that the city and other "intervenors" including Milwaukee County continue to be united in opposition to that route.
The other other ATC alternative, more expensive but mostly underground, would have buried the lines under properties on the north side of West Walnut Road in the Fisher Woods neighborhood.
Kesner said that was still considered unacceptable to the city as a whole, as well as to affected residents, mainly because of the scarring of the neighborhood through the loss of all trees on the north side of the street.
Wauwatosa did put forward a number of alternatives that would have kept the power lines off of either Underwood Creek Parkway or Walnut Road.
United we stand, divided we fall
However, Wauwatosa is not the only dog in this hunt. Kesner said that those routes were problematic, appearing to be either too expensive or too lacking in acceptance among all parties to stand a chance in front of the Public Service Commission (PSC), which has the final say.
Kesner said that with a number of intervenors in the mix – Wauwatosa, Milwaukee County, the City of Milwaukee, the Milwaukee Montessori School, and group called People Friendly Power among them – it was important to present a united front with a consensus, even if somewhat individuallly compromised, opinion.
He also noted that while ATC is the applicant and would build the lines, We Energies would be the party responsible to its ratepayers for the cost and therefore an influential player in the outcome – and that We Energies seemed to like the compromise presented by the new Walnut Road proposal.
In the event that there were factions and disagreements between parties, Kesner warned, the PSC might simply choose the least-cost alternative.
Kesner wrote: "Our fear is that, if the intervenors are not unified, and do not have the support of (We Energies), the PSC will default to one of the least-cost alternatives, or the objectionable version on Walnut Road which takes out so many valuable trees and permanently scars that neighborhood.
"This is a very real fear, given the PSC's mandate, to most seriously consider least-cost alternatives, which in this case would be overhead wires through Wauwatosa and Milwaukee."
Lines would be buried all the way
Another aspect of the modified Walnut Road proposal is that it would bury the transmission lines for their entire length within Wauwatosa.
Under the original ATC plan for that route, the lines would be buried along Walnut Road – albeit under yards instead of the street – but they would have re-emerged as overhead lines to cross the Wauwatosa Public Works yard and on their final approach to the County Grounds.
That was unacceptable to Wauwatosa and the county as it would have been detrimental to planned economic development in the area.
"Staying underground all the way," Kesner wrote, "avoids the installation of ugly overhead lines through an increasingly important area along Mayfair Road and in the economic development area at the northwest corner of Hwy. 45 and Watertown Plank Road."
Tosa supports partners to the south
Finally, Kesner and consulting attorneys agreed to support another all-underground route for a second line that would approach the County Grounds from the south.
Essentially, that is in support of the City of Milwaukee and the Montessori School in their desire to keep overhead lines off of properties just to the south of Wauwatosa's border, and likewise to present a united front.
Kesner wrote that this alternative, while more expensive, was acceptable to almost all parties, while the overhead lines proposed by ATC were "extremely troublesome to those property owners and the City of Milwaukee."