Hundreds of Wauwatosa and Milwaukee residents filled the chambers of the Common Council on Tuesday in hearings before the Wisconsin Public Service Commission, and almost to a single person their message was:
"Bury the lines."
In a debate that has gone on for more than a year, this was the last public part. The decision on exactly where two new 138,000-volt power lines will be routed, and whether all or parts of them will be overhead or underground, now rests with the PSC.
That decision will come in March, as the members of the PSC, their lawyers and advisers, pore through reams of technical documents and testimony.
Early this year, residents of the Fisher Woods and Underwood Creek Parkway neighborhoods, as well a neighborhood in westernmost Milwaukee, banded together to protest overhead lines along alternative routes in any of those areas.
The Common Council was persuaded to pass a resolution backing that position.
But unity among the two Wauwatosa citizens' groups broke down after City Attorney Alan Kesner, who was obliged to argue the city's official stand, proposed an underground route that still would affect Walnut Road residents in Fisher Woods.
Kesner pleaded for consensus and eventually got it from the Common Council, with the backing of a large bloc of citizens, most from Underwood Parkway but including many from all over Wauwatosa and beyond who are adamantly opposed using parkland for a utility cooridor.
The Walnut Road neighbors got some support, most notably from their alderman, Don Birschel, for placing the lines anywhere but there, and overhead if necessary. Birschel, who had developed a number of alternative route proposals on his own, none of which gained traction, argued Tuesday against both the siting on Walnut Road and the cost to rate-payerss of an all-buried route.
But the vast majority present Tuesday – and of those who sent written statements and petitions to the PSC – represented the interests of Underwood Parkway and parkland in general, or the interests of the families of Milwaukee Montessori School and St. Therese Parish in Milwaukee.
Eddee Daniel of Wauwatosa, who identified himself as a member of a number of local and national enviromental groups, made an impassioned statement against any public-private project looking first to parkland just because it would be the cheapest alternative.
"In this case, the benefits of preserving parkland, and the benefits of burying the line, outweigh the narrow, short-term economic considerations," Daniel said. "Some of the benefits are less tangible, like quality of life, but others truly are economic, like property valuations and the costs of physical and emotional health.
"These costs would not be borne by the ATC (American Transmission Co.), but by the larger community. Ultimately, the short-term economic argument makes everyone poorer."
Pat Hall, of the St. Therese community, told the commissioners that his church was one that was trying to grow while many urban parishes are shrinking. Building power line towers practically outside the church doors, Hall said, might ultimately crush the church's hopes for remaining a vibrant religious institution.
"If people looking for a new parish were to see that," he said, "why would they not drive on down the road to the next parish?"