A standing-room only crowd greeted a Milwaukee County Board committee Tuesday as it unanimously recommended a resolution opposing power lines in a Wauwatosa parkway and overhead lines in an adjacent neighborhood in Milwaukee.
As the Milwaukee County Board’s Committee on Parks, Energy and Environment (PE&E) met to discuss the power line routes, the hearing room buzzed with energy. Unprepared for the overflow crowd, committee chairman Gerry Broderick called the meeting to order while people were still streaming into the packed hearing chamber. Many began to sit on the floor.
At issue was a plan by American Transmission Co. (ATC) .
In addition to formally opposing “the proposed Route B alternative,” which would place transmission lines in Underwood Parkway, the resolution went much farther, stating, “Be it further resolved that the County Board opposes any other current or future plans involving placement of high voltage electric transmission lines along Milwaukee County Parkways, the Oak Leaf Trail, or wetlands and natural areas owned and managed by the County.”
Speaking in favor of the resolution, Wauwatosa resident Tom Myszewski said that this would be a “precedent-setting decision.” Myszewski was referring to the stand that the board would be taking by passing the resolution because it would “honor past generations who created the gold medal park system.”
In fact, as stated in the resolution itself and reiterated by numerous speakers, if the ATC were to go ahead with Route B, it “would set a very bad precedent for the entire Milwaukee County Park and Oak Leaf Trail systems, which currently are not marred by any high voltage transmission lines.”
The hearing was recessed after 10 minutes so that additional chairs could be brought into the chamber to accommodate the still-increasing crowd. As testimony resumed two things quickly became clear: First, there were two factions in the room with slightly different agendas; and second, no one wanted overhead power lines.
One of the factions was most notably represented by a large contingent of students and teachers from Milwaukee Montessori School, 345 N. 95th St., just south of Blue Mound Road and the site of a different potential power line route. Their concern, eloquently and passionately stated by a series of young speakers, was for power lines adjacent to schools and residential neighborhoods to be buried instead of overhead.
An amendment by Supervisor Marina Dimitrijevic recognized their concerns, as well as a recent 15-0 vote by the Milwaukee Common Council opposing overhead lines near the school, and added language to “oppose overhead lines on 95th Street.” That amendment passed the committee unanimously.
With implications for all of the proposed routes, a variety of health, safety and aesthetic concerns regarding overhead lines was both broadened and united by Pamela Downing.
She invoked the medical profession’s famous Hippocratic Oath, “First do no harm,” and insisted that it should also apply to public policies. Overhead lines, she said, “shouldn’t be in anyone’s back yard.” Instead they should be routed along existing utility corridors, she said.
Many of the speakers, some of whom admitted that it would be a personal financial sacrifice, added that cost should not be the determining factor. One went further, suggesting that Wisconsin follow the lead of Connecticut, which prohibits overhead power lines in residential areas. “All county residents would benefit,” he said.
Neither the language of the resolutions themselves nor any of the groups or individuals supporting them question the need for more power to be brought to the County Grounds institutions, including the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center – only the routes and methods of bringing it.
It was concern for the parks and parkways that brought out most of the crowd. Speaker after speaker extolled the virtues of nature and decried the destruction that power lines would wreak. Neighborhood groups and ordinary citizens were joined in their support for the resolution by representatives of important organizations, including the Milwaukee County Parks Department, The Park People, Preserve Our Parks, Friends of the Monarch Trail and the Sierra Club.
No one spoke against the resolution, which passed unanimously. It will now go forward to the full board of supervisors.
After the vote, Pete Holtz, a representative of ATC, gave a short presentation that outlined the routes and explained the rationale for how they were chosen.
“Everyone can be involved – as you’ve seen today,” he said, “But the PSC [Public Service Commission] makes the decision, taking all into consideration.”
Supervisor Nikiya Harris asked, “Will there ever be a time when we don’t use overhead lines?”
Holtz replied “I don’t envision that, due to cost.” When Broderick then asked if the ATC’s recommendations to the PSC could reflect the costs more than public opinion, the reply was, “Cost is a major factor.”
The Wauwatosa Common Council will be taking up a resolution similar to the one passed by the County PE&E Committee. An introduction of that resolution could come as soon as Tuesday night, when council committees meet.