The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission is nearing a decision on Xcel Energy’s proposal to string high-voltage power lines over the Midtown Greenway, and the Midtown Greenway Coalition aims to rally project opponents at two final public meetings this month.
Commissioners were scheduled to vote on the project Jan. 12 after one last round of testimony from Xcel, the Coalition and other stakeholders on Jan. 10. Coalition Executive Director Soren Jensen said he was hopeful commissioners would recommend instead burying the lines under 28th Street, two blocks north of the Greenway.
“It has been a long, long struggle, but we’re very hopeful that the long struggle is coming to an end,” Jensen said.
Xcel’s proposed Hiawatha Project would add two new electrical distribution substations — one at Hiawatha & 28th and another at Oakland & 29th — connected by two 115-kilovolt, high-voltage transmission lines. When Xcel filed an application for the project in April 2009, it planned for those power lines, stretching about 1.4 miles with 75- to 110-foot steel support poles every 500 feet, to overhang the Greenway.
Xcel said population growth and successful urban revitalization projects in the Midtown area were driving up demand for electricity.
Xcel estimated the cost of the project at $30–$43 million depending on the final route and whether or not the lines would be buried under ground. Burying the lines would be more expensive, but that was the option supported by the City Council in a February 2009 resolution on the project.
The matter came before an administrative law judge in April 2010, and in October of that year the judge recommended Xcel build the substations but bury the lines under 28th Street.
Public Utilities Commission Facility Permitting Unit Manager Bob Cupit said commissioners would “rely heavily” on the judge’s recommendation in its final decision, but added that they could choose any of four route alternatives already on the table.
The Midtown Greenway Coalition was a leader in the fight against the lines, a campaign joined by many of the neighborhood organizations along the Greenway, as well as other community groups. Some questioned the need for the additional lines at all, suggesting energy conservation would be a better long-term solution to increased electricity demand.
While the Coalition did not take that specific position, it did raise concerns about the power lines’ potential negative impact on development near the Greenway.
“People want to live near the Greenway,” Jensen said. “Developers promote that their new housing is on or near the Greenway. … We really don’t want to stop all that great momentum.”
Some also raised concerns about the potential health effects of the electromagnetic fields around the high-voltage lines.
Said Jensen: “We’re certainly not medical experts … but there’s a perception there’s something to be concerned about, and that’s enough to drive people away.”
The final opportunity for public comment on the project is when the Public Utility Commission meets 9:30 a.m. Jan. 10 in St. Paul’s Metro Square Building at 121 7th Place East. The Commission will hold the hearing in Suite 350.
Commissioners then take a day to review the evidence before reconvening 9:30 a.m. Jan. 12 in the same location. They are expected to vote that day but will not take public comment.
Jensen said his predecessor, former executive director Tim Springer, who retired from the organization last year, made keeping the power lines off the Greenway a priority. Springer “poured his heart and soul into this, and he’s still helping us as a volunteer,” Jensen said.
The Coalition retained an environmental attorney for the project and in December was seeking donations to pay $3,000 in attorney’s fees for the final hearings. To donate, or read more about the Coalition’s position on the Hiawatha Project, go to midtowngreenway.org/.
Many of the documents related to the project can be read or downloaded at xcelenergy.com/About_Us/Transmission/Projects_Directory/Hiawatha_Transmission_Project.
Report suggests combining watershed districts
A report released in November suggested Hennepin County fix a “piecemeal” system of watershed management by consolidating the number of watershed districts and watershed management organizations.
Currently, 11 different agencies are responsible for surface water management in Hennepin County, but a team from the University of Minnesota Center for Science, Technology and Public Policy recommends they be reduced to four agencies, each governing an area determined by hydrological, and not political, boundaries. The team’s report also advocated giving those agencies taxing authority and promoting better coordination between the agencies themselves and local watershed districts and the state.
To download an online copy of the report, go to hennepin.us and type “water resources management” into the search box.
Reach Dylan Thomas at [email protected]