A two-month delay in the hearing process on power line routes will give Wauwatosa "more breathing room" to gather information, City Attorney Alan Kesner said. But he isn't counseling stretching the timeline to the new limit.
Kesner told the Common Council on Tuesday night that it was not his wish or intention to open things up again for consideration of whole new alternative route proposals.
Rather, he said, he, along with the city's legal and engineering advisers and expert witnesses, would be looking at "tweaks" to alternatives that have already been put on the table.
The delay, in which Wauwatosa had no part, will allow time to explore modifications that might make a new western power route more palatable – if, in the end, the Wisconsin Public Service Commission accepts Wauwatosa's proposal.
To Kesner, the alternative that still holds the most promise runs down Walnut Road, but buried under the street rather than in people's front yards, a recommendation he made to the Community Development Committee on June 29.
Since then, Kesner has been looking into modifications to that plan that would be more satisfactory to Walnut Road neighbors still upset by the proposal because it did not address the installation of several new towers, or "drop structures," placed neared to their street and properties.
Kesner has asked American Transmission Co. – which will install the new line, however it is configured – and his own engineering team to look at finding a different place to drop the new line from overhead to underground.
Not satisfied with all the answers
Kesner wanted to know whether the drop towers could be moved back a short distance in the utility right-of-way, just out of the sightlines of Walnut Road residents but not so far as to add significantly to costs. The new line would then be trenched back to Walnut Road underneath the existing overhead lines.
So far, he said, ATC's answer has been that the next nearest places they could drop the line would be about half a mile farther away, either to the north or south. If true, that would add considerably to the cost of the project, Kesner said.
But Kesner wasn't entirely satisfied with ATC's response, which amounted to more of a dismissal than an explanation, he said.
"They basically said they didn't think they could do it because they'd never done it that way before," Kesner said. "So we're looking into whether anybody else has done it, or better knowledge of why it couldn't be done."
ATC also protested that the plan would require a 90-degree turn when the line reached Walnut Road. A line this size – 138,000 volts – requires a 3-foot-thick casing when buried. According to ATC, every 90-degree turn has to take place in an underground chamber that costs about $200,000, Kesner said.
One more look at Watertown Plank
Kesner also said that, even though it has been rejected so far as too difficult and costly, he hasn't entirely given up on a route straight down Watertown Plank Road to the We Energies County Grounds power plant.
By far the shortest and least invasive route, Watertown Plank is beset by a couple of major obstacles, the main one being getting past a snarl of infrastructure just west of Mayfair Road.
There, Watertown Plank Road rises to pass over the Canadian Pacific Railroad tracks and Underwood Creek, which is channelized in concrete there, and then goes under a Union Pacific Railroad bridge.
Kesner said that he was still looking to engineers to thoroughly examine the problem and see if there wasn't still some way "over, under, around or through" the tangle.
With the delay in process – brought on by lagging negotiations between Milwaukee County and We Energies over land the utility needs to build a new substation north of its power plant – Wauwatosa now has until mid-October before it has to submit its briefs to the PSC.
But Kesner said that is a deadline, and it is better to submit sooner than later. He told Common Council members they could act on a recommendation, or choose no recommendation, any time they were comfortable making a decision.
However, he said, if the city is to make a route recommendation, he would want it done no later than mid-September.
The PSC won't make its final ruling until March, and construction of the new power line would take place in 2014.