FAIRMONT - Residents of Martin, Faribault and Jackson counties are getting a chance this week to voice concerns about a proposed electric transmission line through the area.
The final step in determining the need and route for the project involves an administrative law judge reviewing the project. James E. LaFave of St. Paul is assigned to the case, and was present Wednesday afternoon and evening in Fairmont. Similar hearings were held in Blue Earth and Jackson on Tuesday.
Along with LaFave, officials from ITC Midwest, Burns & McDonnell, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and the state Public Utilities Commission were on hand to field questions.
The proposed line would run from Lakefield Junction in Jackson County, through Martin County, into Faribault County and then go south into Kossuth County in Iowa. The line would stretch 75 miles through southern Minnesota.
An original plan had the line running south of Interstate 90 on the north end of Sherburn, something that had many Sherburn residents concerned. But a modified route puts the transmission line north of the interstate instead. Despite this change, many Sherburn and rural Martin County residents are still apprehensive about the project.
"The original route A had the lines 120 feet away from our church," said Rev. Ron Mixer of the Sherburn Assembly of God worship center. "Then this modified route A was introduced in February. Both routes A and B had a lot of NIMBY - Not in my backyard. ... But there is the question of what will we have to pay with this new transmission line? A $60 a year increase won't break some, but for those on a fixed income it could be the difference of getting all their medications versus having a refrigerator or a furnace running. It feels like a bait and switch: ITC will make millions while the residents of southern Minnesota will foot the bill."
Jack Middleton, project manager for the routing study, said the modified route A came about after learning about the Sherburn issues.
"We realized there was a significant interest in developing a north line and staying away from the city of Sherburn," he said.
All those who reported a specific issue with lines crossing their property were asked to mark a map and which route would impact their property.
"The modified route A and route B both cross my driveway," said Sarah Jagodizinske Rohman, who has spoken at past hearings regarding the lines and concerns for her children's health. "The DNR expressed issues with birds that fly by twice a year. What about children that would be by that line five days a week when they're waiting for the bus?"
Adam Soloski of Iberdrola Renewables was present and spoke in favor of the project.
"Right now, we're at 100 percent saturation," he said. "We are unable to connect any more energy projects without more transmission lines. It's like a traffic jam. This will help free up more projects and wind farms."
Many Sherburn residents who spoke out during hearings last month spoke again, urging action against the original route A plan.
"The original route A, it went by two schools, and there have been higher instances of leukemia in children when high transmission lines are present," said Sherburn Mayor Dorothy Behne. "It'd go by the Kum and Go, with its gasoline, if there was an electrical malfunction, it could be some serious trouble. The Sherburn Assembly of God church is an all-metal building ... We will request that you keep considering the modified route A."
The comment period will continue until May 30. Public comments can be submitted to Administrative Law Judge James E. LaFave at the officer of administrative hearings, Box 64620, 600 N. Robert St., St. Paul, MN 55164. Comments also can be e-mailed at email@example.com or faxed to (651) 361-7936.
Comments also can be left online at mn.gov/puc, select "comment on an issue," and find the project "ITC Midwest." Docket number 60-2500-30782 needs to be included with all communications.
The final report will include all evidence properly submitted into the record for the case, including public comments. The state Public Utilities Commission will make a final decision on a permit for the project in October.