WisBusiness: Public asks for underground route on ATC power line at PSC hearing

By Tracy Will

For WisBusiness.com

Dane County residents asked Public Service Commission members Tuesday to choose an underground route along Madison’s Beltline for a proposed 345-kilovolt transmission line.

But American Transmission Co. officials said they want to build the line above ground from Middleton to Rockdale in eastern Dane County because it’s less expensive.

“The project will cost about $300 million more to run it underground from State Highway 51 to the Middleton substation,” said ATC spokeswoman Sarah Justus.

The majority of people testifying at the first day of public hearings agreed with Dane County Supervisor Dianne Hesselbein of Middleton, who said that a local community group endorsed burying the line from Middleton to Highway 51, “at a very reasonable cost.”

ATC lawyer Trevor Will asked Hesselbein if the Dane County Board had considered issuing bonds to cover the cost of burying the cable or applying a special tax to pay the difference compared to an overhead line.

Hesselbein said no.

The more direct Beltline route was favored by the majority of rural residents who opposed two proposed alternative rural routes through southern Dane County.

“Take the most direct and least new right-of way. Take the route with the most shared right-of-way,” said Springdale Town Chair Ed Eloranta, who was joined by town supervisors Wayne Hefty and Richard Schwenn.

“Right-of-way in rural Dane County will use 558 or 446 acres of farmland depending on the route you choose. You only need to condemn 223 acres along the Beltline route.”

Delora Newton, the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce executive vice president, urged commissioners to support the line, because Dane County is “the fastest growing county in the state, and we cannot afford to have threats of blackouts or brownouts as we stress our location as a great place to locate high-tech companies.”

She said her group was not backing a specific route.

But she added, “We want to thank the PSC to consider undergrounding as a potential alternative for the routing.”

ATC Construction General Manager Patsy Baynard said the costs of burying the line averaged $24 million a mile compared to $8 million a mile for building overhead.

“We still plan to propose an overhead line for this route,” Baynard said, adding “we’ve already adjusted the height of the towers through the Arboretum to comply with concerns.”

The proximity of the proposed line to the Acme Television tower antenna at Forward Drive near WMTV may pose safety problems, said Fred Moore of Madison, who works for Naperville, Ill.-based Acme Television.

“ATC looks at the tower like it’s a building, and that’s the wrong model,” Moore said.

“Besides, I think there are requirements against siting adjacent structures in case the tower fails,” Moore said, recounting Madison rules about erecting antennas away from nearby buildings.

Not all who testified opposed the project or the rural routes.

Dairy farmer Mike Duerst of Springdale told commissioners: “I’m not a NIMBY kind of guy. I just want to have a say in where you locate the route.

“Besides, I want to be paid handsomely for letting them use my land,” he added.