Construction of WI Power Line Could Begin in August ’05

Sat June 04, 2005 - Midwest Edition

MILWAUKEE (AP) American Transmission Co. and Wisconsin Public Service Corp. hope to begin building a portion of a power line in northwestern Wisconsin in August.

But the 220-mile, $420 million power line from Wausau to Duluth, MN, still faces obstacles before construction can begin.

Maripat Blankenheim, a spokeswoman for American Transmission Co. said the company is starting in August so construction takes place through winter for environmental reasons.

Also an opposition group’s challenge to an environmental permit prevents some construction from starting, but a decision on the case is expected by the end of July.

Regulators and the utility said the project, named the Arrowhead-Weston line for the two substations it would link, would relieve congestion on the network of high-voltage power lines that join Wisconsin and other states. The state has four lines linking it and Illinois, but just one linking it with Minnesota.

Opponents challenged permits for the project, including a Department of Natural Resources permit allowing poles to be set in wetland areas. A three-day hearing on the permit was held in Hayward by the state Division of Hearings and Appeals.

Glenn Stoddard, a lawyer for the environmental group Clean Wisconsin and Save Our Unique Lands, which formed to oppose the line, said the wetlands permit should be sent back to the DNR for further review because American Transmission hasn’t submitted detailed plans on how its project would affect wetlands.

Mark Williamson, vice president of major projects at American Transmission, said the permit application it submitted was extensive, spanning seven volumes.

The move is a delay tactic on “the most studied infrastructure project in the history of this state,” he said.

Dave Siebert, who heads the DNR’s Office of Energy Projects, declined to comment, since the points raised by Stoddard and Williamson are now part of the legal review of the permit being overseen by Administrative Law Judge Jeffrey Boldt.

The other hurdle to building the line is the vote by the Douglas County Board earlier this year not to permit the use of county-owned land for the project.

A bill introduced this week by Rep. Phil Montgomery, R-Ashwaubenon, would give utilities the power to use county or other public land for such projects if they have secured permits from the state Public Service Commission.