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Residents Ready to Sound Off at Power Line Hearings

Preserve Our Parkway has put out the word and garnered more than 600 signatures on a petition to keep lines out of Underwood Creek area.

The public had a large say in informing the city on a course in the long-simmering debate over the route of a new power line through west Wauwatosa.

The public input steered the Common Council and City Attorney Alan Kesner to draft an ordinance opposing overhead lines on any route, and to ask the Wisconsin Public Service Commission in hearings to select a specific all-underground route from Walnut Road and North 120th Street to the County Grounds.

Now, it is the general public's turn again. The PSC will convene public hearings on the transmission line routes, and how they are to be installed, at 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. Tuesday in Council Chambers at City Hall.

One group of citizens has been marshalling forces toward this day for months. Preserve Our Parkway has collected more than 600 adult signatures and 80 more from youths opposing a power route along Underwood Creek Parkway.

It reads: "The undersigned citizens of Wisconsin hereby petition the PSC to consider proposed alternate routes which prevent the utilization of Milwaukee county parks, parkways, and wetlands, specifically Underwood Parkway, and mature residential areas, such as Walnut Road, as power line corridors, thereby protecting and preserving the quality of our neighborhoods and green spaces.”

The group is also urging the PSC to accept the proposal adopted by the Common Council and argued for by Kesner.

Comments mailed to the PSC will be accepted if received by Monday, at:

Docket 5-CE-139 Comments
Public Service Commission
P.O. Box 7854
Madison, WI 53707-7854

The west Tosa line is one of two proposed to supply additional power to the growing institutions of the County Grounds, and will feed into a new substation to be built adjacent to the We Energies power plant on Watertown Plank Road.

The second line will approach through Milwaukee from the south. It will also pass through a Wauwatosa residential neighborhood along North 95th Street before reachin the Grounds, but the Tosa portion of that route was always proposed to be buried.

Part of that line in Milwaukee was proposed to be overhead and would have passed next to the Milwaukee Montessori School. Its opposition persuaded the City of Milwaukee to also pass a resolution against overhead lines and recommending a buried route.

Both lines will be built be American Transmission Co., which was spun off 10 years ago from We Energies. The power utility still owns a large stake in ATC, and the city won a major supporter when We Energies CEO Gale Klappa signed on to a letter supporting the city's preferred buried route.

Burying both lines would cost, in each case, about four times what the lowest-cost overhead-line proposals would have – and those added costs would be shared by rate-payers throughout We Energies' service area.

The PSC is bound to give first consideration to lowest-cost routes to protect rate-payers, but it can be persuaded otherwise, and has the final say. A decision is expected in March.

The reason Wauwatosa believes a more expensive installation can and should win PSC approval is based on economics. While neighborhood aesthetics and environmental concerns have driven most public opposition, the PSC is most apt to consider economic harm, Kesner has said.

Overhead lines would be damaging to residential property values in either the Underwood Creek or Walnut Road neighborhoods. But an even larger concern for Wauwatosa and for Milwaukee County, which also signed on to Tosa's higher-cost plan, is longer-term commercial economic development.

The proposed western route from Walnut Road would also pass either over or under the city Public Works Yard and then through what is now a large Milwaukee County tract including the County Greenhouses, Fleet Management and the Milwaukee County Sheriff's Department Patrol Division headquarters.

Most if not all of those public facilities would be relocated during rerouting of Swan Boulevard during the Zoo Interchange Project, opening up the remainder of the tract for private development.

That land would become perhaps the most valuable real estate in Wisconsin, hard by the freeway system, the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center and Milwaukee County Research Park.

Overhead lines passing through the tract, the city and county argue, would eat up a swath of developable land – at least an 80-foot-wide unbuildable corridor – and lower the value of the remaining property.

In the long term, those stakeholders say, the cost to the city, the county, and the general economy of the state in jobs and revenue from lost economic development opportunity would far outweigh the added cost of installing underground power lines.

Christine McLaughlin November 27, 2012 at 02:16 AM
When did economic development become the only good anyone's allowed to consider? Parklands and parkways have value to the property holders around them, but they are important to all the people who enjoy them for all time, who exercise and stroll and dream there, not to mention wildlife and green things. All these values are interconnected.

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