WYOCENA — Columbia County is coming into a million-dollar windfall, and Highway Commissioner Chris Hardy has some ideas for how to spend it.
But County Board Chairman Vern Gove told the County Board’s Highway Committee on Thursday that other county departments have their eyes on the one-time payment of $1.2 million from the American Transmission Company — compensation for the environmental impact that a 180-mile, 345-kilovolt electrical transmission line is expected to have on the county.
Hardy said the use of the environmental impact fee, as he understands it, is “unrestricted,” though the original idea was that the county should use the fee for environment-related uses.
When the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin announced the payments about 11 months ago, a PSC official said the money should be used “toward an environmental-related issue that’s in the public’s general interest.”
Some of the uses that Hardy suggested would fall into that category.
Columbia County has historically spent very little time or money on the six properties that are designated as county parks — Wyona Park near Wyocena, Owen Park in the town of Caledonia, Whalen Grade Fishing Pier in the town of Dekorra, Lake George Park in the town of Pacific, Park Lake Park just outside of Pardeeville and Governor’s Bend Park in the town of Fort Winnebago.
For the highway department’s 2016 budget, $35,080 has been set aside for the county parks, mostly for basic maintenance.
With the ATC money, however, Hardy said the county could make the following improvements in the parks:
Asphalt replacement in Wyona Park, $189,000.
Bridge replacement at Governor’s Bend, $22,500.
Asphalt replacement at Governor’s Bend, $20,000.
Asphalt replacement at Owen Park, $25,000.
New benches and tables for Owen Park and Governor’s Bend, $25,000.
Hardy said he suggests setting aside about $582,624 of the ATC payment for the county’s share of road projects to be done under the state’s Surface Transportation Program.
In addition to the one-time payment to Columbia County, ATC is also paying a total of $1.2 million to the towns of Arlington, Caledonia and Dekorra, plus annual payments of $145,235, to be divided among the three towns, for the life of the power line.
The Badger Coulee line will run from the town of Vienna in Dane County northwest, ending near the village of Holmen in La Crosse County.
ATC Spokeswoman Kaya Freiman said work has begun on clearing the right-of-way for the transmission line. In Columbia County, much of that right-of-way follows the Interstate 90-94 corridor along the interstate highway’s east side.
Starting about a month ago, crews have been removing trees and brush and laying down mats to prepare for construction.
For Segment Two of the line, which runs from the town of Vienna in Dane County to just north of the Wisconsin River in Columbia County, foundation construction will start in August, and power poles will go up in late summer or early fall. Part of Segment Three, from north of the Wisconsin River to near the Lake Delton area, also runs through Columbia County, and work on that segment will generally lag behind the work on Segment Two. Freiman said.
ATC officials expect to schedule a pre-construction open house in a few weeks, she added.
Gove said he’s already heard from other Columbia County departments about suggestions for use of the ATC money, although he didn’t specify at the meeting what those suggestions were.
Any decision about how the money will be used, Gove said, will be made with the entire county in mind, and the matter will be discussed by the County Board’s Executive Committee.
Hardy said the county’s proposed use for the money, when it is decided, will have to be communicated to the PSC.
Committee members asked why Columbia County is getting a one-time environmental impact payment while the towns will also get annual payments. Freiman said that’s by Wisconsin statute.
Committee Member James Foley of the town of Leeds said, “Something is better than nothing.”