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Judge hears citizens’ concerns

By Staff | May 18, 2014

Residents from the Blue Earth area were able to tell an administrative law judge just what they thought about the possibility of a large electrical transmission line coming within a few feet of the city limits.

And the judge heard that they didn’t think much of the idea at all.

ITC Midwest is planning to build a 345 kV power line from Jackson east to Huntley, then south into Iowa.

There are several different possible routes the line could follow. One of those possibilities comes very close to the Riverside Heights neighborhood just north of Blue Earth.

Judge James Lefave was at Hamilton Hall on Tuesday afternoon from 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. to hear comments from any and all persons with concerns over the proposed electric transmission line.

Faribault County commissioner Tom Warmka was one of those who addressed the judge.

“I was the county commissioner assigned to this issue,” Warmka told Judge Lefave. “We were assured the new transmission line would follow the same path as the old line that runs south from near Winnebago to the Iowa border. I told the other commissioners this would not be an issue.”

But, Warmka continued, suddenly there were alternative routes listed in the plan. And, several of those followed along I-90 and one of them comes very close to Blue Earth.

“I understand ITC Midwest actually wants the route called Modified Route A,” Warmka says. “That is the one that follows the old line and it is the one the Faribault County commissioners prefer.”

Amy Ashbacher, the project manager for ITC Midwest, said it was true they preferred that route as well.

“But, we don’t make that decision,” she said. “The judge will decide the actual route.”

She added the Modified Route A plan follows the old transmission line “70 percent of the time.”

Faribault County commissioner Greg Young also spoke in favor of following the old transmission line route.

“My constituents have expressed to me they want the Modified Route A, running from Winnebago south,” he says. “This will cause the fewest issues.”

Others who spoke included Kent Krieger, Merrill Smith and Lee Manthei who all own farmland along some of the alternate route sites.

“I am concerned about my personal health and safety and that of my family and other families if the line comes through my farm,” Krieger says. “I am also concerned about livestock production, noise, obstruction of my view of the landscape and the restriction of outdoor activities.”

Krieger says a line through the middle of his land will negatively affect farming and his property values.

“And, the new line will not benefit me, because it serves other areas,” he adds. “In fact, my electric rates are expected to rise by 21 to 24 percent in the next five years.”

Manthei, who lives in Mapleton but owns acres of farmland west of Blue Earth, testified he felt it made no sense to run the line right through his property.

“I think it makes much more sense to run it between fields or along fence lines,” he says. “Not through the middle of a field.”

He did not favor several of the new I-90 alternate routes because they were too disruptive to property owners. Smith agreed with him, saying the new line should follow the route of the current line.

Judge Lefave said he was interested in taking testimony both as to the route of the proposed line and whether it is needed or not. Representatives from three different wind power companies spoke as to the need.

“This line is very much needed and we support building it,” says Justin Pickar of Geronimo Energy of Edina. They own wind farms in Jackson, Watonwan and Cottonwood counties and have plans for more in this area, he adds.

The judge will consider all the testimony as well as the written comments which have been received and the documentation of the proposed route and decide if there is a need for the line and what the route should be.

That determination is expected to be made in November with construction starting the next year, should the line be authorized.

Persons have until May 30 to make written comments about the transmission line.