LAKE DELTON — John Stevenson walked out of the American Transmission Co.’s open house Wednesday resolving to write a letter.
The town of Arlington farmer — who also serves as a Columbia County supervisor — was not pleased to see that one of ATC’s proposed routes for its high-voltage electric transmission line would cut across his property.
“For one thing,” he said, “you can’t spray with these lines.” Also, he said, he has a lime quarry that he’d hoped to expand, but that might not be possible if the Badger Coulee transmission lines wind up going across his property.
“We can send them a letter and tell them we don’t want it,” Stevenson said, “but I don’t know what good that’s going to do.”
Writing a letter or expressing an opinion during Wednesday’s open house at the Wintergreen Resort and Conference Center in Lake Delton could make a great deal of difference, ATC spokeswoman Kaya Freiman said.
That’s one reason why ATC is holding open houses, she said — four of them between April 17 and Wednesday, and another today at Norwalk.
As of 4 p.m., about halfway though the open house’s scheduled 1 to 7 p.m. hours, about
173 people had come through the Wintergreen Resort.
Freiman said several Columbia County residents attended an open house Tuesday in Waunakee, but many others attended Wednesday’s event.
The final route for the $425 million, 150- to 170-mile line, which would carry 345 kilovolts of electricity from north of La Crosse to northern Dane County, almost certainly will run through Columbia County, and possibly through portions of neighboring Sauk County.
ATC has narrowed the proposed routes for the line, which is designed to transmit electricity generated by several sources, including wind turbines, to the power grid.
ATC no longer is proposing running the line through developed or populated areas of Columbia County, such as the city of Portage or the village of Poynette. However, some of the areas that are still possibly part of the route include the Interstate 39/90/94 corridor, Highway 16 and possibly Columbia County Highway K in the towns of Dekorra and Arlington.
According to Freiman, the most frequently asked question is “what happens next?”
She said feedback gathered during and after the open houses will influence which two (or more) routes for the Badger Coulee line that ATC will propose to the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin in 2013. The PSC will have the final say about the route — and about whether the line will be built at all.
Sue Maher of the town of Dekorra attended an ATC open house in Portage in October 2010 to express concern about the environmental and health impact of a high-power transmission line.
At Wednesday’s open house, she said those concerns remain.
She characterized the open house as “total indoctrination” on the part of ATC, and said much more environmental study is needed before the PSC considers permitting the Badger Coulee line at all.
“For one thing,” she said, “it hasn’t been proven that we need all this additional electricity,” she said, adding that any high-power electric line increases the danger of phenomena such as stray voltage and microwaves.
“You can be near a power line and hear it snap, and you know how much energy is coming off it,” she said.
Maher said that to her knowledge, there are no proposals on the table to run the Badger Coulee line across or near her property.
Anyone at the open house who wanted to find out if their land is on or near one of the proposed routes could go to a computer station where a detailed map pinpointing any specific property could be printed out.
Leonard Hein got one of those maps and wasn’t happy with what he saw.
His land in the town of Caledonia is near one of the proposed routes, he said. He’s concerned, he said, whether his land might be taken outright, or whether ATC might impose restrictions on how the land is used.
“They tie up your property,” he said.
Those concerns prompted Hein to talk with Michael Cummings of ATC, who stood under a sign that said “working with landowners.”
In talking to Hein, Cummings noted that the PSC ultimately will decide where the Badger Coulee line will go, assuming it is approved. Once that happens, it’s out of ATC’s hands as to where the line would be built.
But if the line crosses any private property, Cummings said, ATC would not seek outright acquisition of the land. Rather, it would seek easements for its use.
However, those easements are likely to come with restrictions.
For example, Freiman said, no trees at all — not even trees whose tops are cut — would be allowed to grow along the route of a high-voltage line.
Freiman also said Stevenson, the town of Arlington farmer, probably could spray chemicals on his farmland if the line passes over his property, but whether he could expand his lime pit would depend on how that would affect the stability of any power poles that might stand at or near the site, Freiman said.
Anyone who objected to locating the line on particular types of land could anonymously have their say on the way out of the open house.
Each attendee was offered two green dot stickers, and those stickers could be placed alongside various types of land formations.
As of 4 p.m. — with three hours to go before the open house would end — there were 34 stickers alongside “prime farmland and agricultural land,” indicating opposition to placing the line on land that fits that description.
There were another 22 stickers alongside “scenic areas, scenic transit routes and hill curvings and crests.”
Anyone who wishes to comment on the Badger Coulee proposal may do so by emailing email@example.com, or writing to the American Transmission Company, 2 Fen Oak Court, Madison, WI 53718.
Cummings noted that the PSC will receive comments once ATC submits its proposed routes, tentatively early next year.
If the PSC approves the project (tentativly sometime in 2014), construction would start in 2016 and the line would be placed in service in 2018.