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Twin Cities Daily Planet: Between a rock and a Greenway: Xcel takes heat for plans to run power lines along bike trail

TWIN CITIES DAILY PLANET

Just over 100 community members attended a public meeting at the Midtown Global Market recently to submit their comments and questions on Xcel Energy’s Hiawatha Project. The project proposes several routes for a new 115 kilovolt transmission line stretching between two new substations at Hiawatha Avenue and Portland Avenue South. Xcel’s preferred route follows the Midtown Greenway, a former railroad corridor and current non-motorized bike path.

The meeting, held by the Office of Energy Security on June 18, is a required step in the application process. It was a chance to provide public information about Xcel’s review process, and to allow the public to voice their comments on the project and on the scope of the Environmental Impact Statement. After the public comment period ends on July 10, the Environmental Impact Statement will be submitted, and the Public Utilities Commission will make the final decision to approve, reject, or modify the project.

The attendees’ overwhelming opposition to the preferred route of the Hiawatha project became clear within the first few minutes of the meeting. After brief presentations by Xcel and the Office of Energy Security, Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin raised his hand, and without being called up, approached the microphone to make “a clarification” before the official comment period began. He took issue with Xcel’s characterization of Route A along the Midtown Greenway, saying, “It’s not on the street, it’s on Railroad Authority property designated for green space. It also crosses the historical districts.” He explained that he wanted to make that clarification to establish an accurate context for the start of the comment period and to “set the record straight.” His interruption was met with enthusiastic applause from the audience.

Like McLaughlin, most community members who spoke publicly agreed that more power was needed in the area but were passionately opposed to placing the power lines over the greenway, an area designated for green space, whose aesthetic beauty and potential for further development they felt would be compromised by the overhead lines. “Go ahead and solve your electrical transmission problems, hands off our parks and green spaces,” community member Andrew Kern said to applause from the audience.

Many feel that following Route A, the above ground route along the greenway, would, as McLaughlin put it, “squander a 30 million dollar investment that’s been made.” Tim Springer, director of the Midtown Greenway Coalition, echoed these concerns, citing developers who say they won’t build along the Greenway if the power lines go up. Also, plans to develop streetcar transportation along the Greenway could be compromised by the lines.

Still, those who oppose Route A say they do not want to burden nearby neighborhoods with the same problems. “Don’t just switch it over to other residential areas,” McLaughlin said.

Route A, along the Midtown Greenway. Graphic by Xcel.

Hugh Mahoney, who lives along an alternate residential route site, was also concerned about the overhead lines’ effect on property values. “This is simply idiotic,” he said. “Our houses won’t be worth peanuts. I’ve got to sell my house and buy a condo. I can’t be messing around with it, and Xcel can’t be messing around with my house.”

Many agreed that the Midtown area already bears more than its share of pollution from development, and are concerned about the possible health risks of placing these power lines so close to residential areas.

Those against the project urged that the environmental impact statement examine alternative energy sources, and most agreed that if the route along the Greenway were chosen, the power lines ought to be buried underground. The cost to bury the lines along the Greenway would be $41.8 million compared to $28.4 million for overhead lines. Xcel customers would bear the extra cost to bury the power lines.

Some attendees did express support for the Hiawatha Project. Joyce Wilson, director of the Lake Street Council and a Lake Street Business owner, complained of the difficulties of running a small business without proper power, adding that some fellow business owners did not attend for fear of losing local customers.

Route B would primarily follow 28th Street. Graphic by Xcel.

Tim Grote, Director of Facilities at the Allina Hospital Clinic at Abbott Northwestern Hospital, said that between January 2004 and now, they have experienced 239 power quality and reliability incidents with 23 full interruptions compared to a comparable hospital’s 15 total outages within the same period. Grote said the hospital does not take a position on the power line routing but feels the project needs to address continuing and imminent power supply needs.

Xcel’s RaeLynn Asah said that Xcel prefers Route A along the Greenway because it is the shortest route between two substations — and the least expensive, because it uses “an existing corridor.” Also, Xcel believes that route will have the least impact to homes and businesses.

The line would be a double circuit overhead with both lines on one pole, and would include a substation contained by concrete walls. Both Xcel and some community members mentioned the possibility of public art on the concrete walls.

Xcel says that if Route A is approved, the project should be complete with service by January 2011.

Jane Biliter (jbiliter@macalester.edu) is a recent graduate of Macalester College; and an intern at the Daily Planet.


If you wish to submit a comment to Bill Storm from the Office of Energy Security, you can e-mail him at bill.storm@state.mn.us or write to Minnesota Department of Commerce, Office of Energy Security, 85 7th Place, Suite 500, St. Paul MN 55101-2198.

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