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TOWN OF ONALASKA -- Dairyland Power Cooperative's plans to replace a 65-year-old power line have raised concerns of residents living near the high-voltage line.

Originally constructed in 1950 through farmland, the 161-kilovolt line now cuts through back yards and in some cases directly over homes that were built around it as development pushed north, first along the Hwy. 35 and later the Hwy. 53 corridor.

Some residents worry about the health effects of living so close to the line -- especially if Dairyland is able to push more electricity through it.

Darlene Adams lives directly under the lines in a mobile home on Kimberly Street and says she can hear them crackle when it rains or snows.

“It sounds like water on a frying pan,” Adams said.

Adams said she didn’t think about the line when she bought the home but has since become concerned about health effects.

“What is it doing to my house?” she said. “I’ve wondered, but no one has contacted me.”

The La Crosse-based utility has been working for most of the past decade to replace the Q1 line, which connects power plants in Alma and Genoa to the electric grid and delivers power to customers in surrounding rural areas.

The segment from Genoa to La Crosse was replaced in 2013, and the majority of the northern section is being rebuilt as part of CapX2020, a new transmission line nearing completion. Work is set to begin this month on a segment north of Holmen.

That leaves a nine-mile stretch, known as Q1-D South, running from Briggs Road in Holmen south into the town of Medary.

Dairyland hopes to begin construction in late 2016, but Chuck Thompson, who is in charge of siting and regulation for Dairyland, said designs for the replacement line are not complete.

In general, plans call for 95- to 115-foot steel poles to replace the existing wooden H structures, which range in height from 55 to 85 feet, although the company will need special clearance for some poles in the flight path of the La Crosse Regional Airport.

The estimated cost is between $7 million and $8 million.

Dairyland also plans to use a larger wire that will be able to carry more than twice as much electricity at the same voltage.

Carol Overland, a Red Wing, Minn., attorney who has fought transmission projects on behalf of citizens and ratepayers, said that will result in about twice as much EMF, which Dairyland hopes to mitigate by raising the wires.

A form of radiation given off by electricity, EMF is present anywhere there are electric wires or appliances.

Studies have found possible links between EMF exposure and increased risk of childhood leukemia, but according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences studies have not found links to adult cancers.

There are no federal regulations on EMF levels in homes, though the NIEHS recommends reducing exposure.

“It’s regarded as tin hat stuff, but it’s real,” Overland said. “Very real.”

Michael Yeager said his daughters, now 33 and 37, grew up playing under the wires, which cut through his yard. he suffers from multiple sclerosis, and one of his daughters has a tumor in her knee.

“I really wonder if something’s going on here,” he said. “Now they’re planning on getting bigger yet.”

Dairyland provides EMF monitoring at the request of people living near its lines but the utility does not retain that data, nor has it modeled the likely emissions from the rebuilt line.

Thompson said such modeling is not required.

“The RUS does not require us to do that,” he said. “The (state) requires it in their analysis. The federal process does not.”

Ann Kathan recently moved her family into a cottage next the home where she grew up on County Road OT. She planned to raise her 6-year-old twins there while caring for her aging parents, Lois and Bob.

But since learning about Dairyland’s plans to rebuild the line about 70 feet from her kids’ bedroom, she’s become concerned about the potential health effects of EMF.

She opposes the rebuild and plans to move unless the line is removed.

“In good conscience we cannot live in that house,” she said. “This is devastating.”

Federal money, but no state permit

Kathan, who has been contacting residents along the line in an effort to rally opposition, said Dairyland has been less than transparent, giving little information about the plans or the process.

“It’s just a gigantic black hole of missing information,” she said.

Overland was frustrated that Dairyland ran a legal notice in the La Crosse Tribune on Aug. 28 -- with two paragraphs describing the project and an illegible map -- without publishing any additional information about the project.

“There's no application on line, nothing for anyone to look at and figure out what's going on and then comment on,” Overland said. “What's the point of making comments if we don't know the plan?”

Because Dairyland is replacing an existing line, the utility does not need permission from Wisconsin regulators. But in order to receive low-interest financing from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Dairyland must submit an application to the Rural Utility Service, which will determine what level of environmental review is necessary.

Thompson said the RUS application process requires Dairyland to collect public comments before submitting the application, which is why it was not available.

Dairyland has since agreed to extend the public comment period until Oct. 13, is publishing a second legal notice and has posted maps and basic information about the project on the company’s website.

State Sen. Jennifer Shilling and Rep. Steve Doyle, whose district is crossed by the line, said they’ve heard from concerned constituents but are limited in what they can do, because the project is not subject to state authority.

Both lawmakers said they encouraged Dairyland to listen to residents’ concerns.

Some residents along the line would like Dairyland to consider an alternative route -- along Hwy. 35 or Hwy. 53 -- or running it along the same poles as Xcel Energy’s 161-kv line that also bisects the area.

Chuck Thompson, who is in charge of siting and regulation, said the other routes present problems -- Hwy. 35 has scenic easements, right-of-ways that extend into front yards, and is in the airport flight path; combining routes is also a challenge.

“When you start combining transmission lines the height goes up,” he said “It gets more difficult to put these lines together.”

And to move the line Dairyland would need permission from the Wisconsin Public Service Commission.

Thompson said burying the line -- another common suggestion -- would cost about 10 times as much.

“It’s difficult any time you’re in a city to route transmission,” Thompson said.

Urban planning

Dairyland could not provide the number of home within 300 feet of the line, but a Tribune analysis found the line crosses 142 developed residential properties and at least another nine multi-family properties with 84 apartments.

It crosses another 31 developed commercial properties, according to the Tribune’s analysis.

Much of the development occurred in the 1960s and 70s, prior to state statute that prohibits utilities from running anything higher than a 35kv line over a residence -- or the construction of a residence under an existing line.

Kurt Childs, Dairyland’s director of land and design services, notes that homes built within the 80-foot right-of-way were constructed in violation of the company’s easement.

Who -- if anyone -- signed off on such plans is not clear.

“It really is a perfect example of a lack of urban planning,” Doyle said. “To have a mobile home directly under an existing line seems to me ludicrous.”

Kathan objects to the rebuilding project and thinks Dairyland should relocate the line away from the homes that were built around it, arguing that they are responsible for acting on new information about EMF.

“There really was not a choice,” she said. “People did not choose to be bombarded with EMF, because they did not know.”

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(23) comments

spirit3

There really should be a law about constructing power lines so close to homes. I would be horrified and very upset if a power line was going over my home. Unfortunately the power company picked the lowest valued homes, and probably with the least financial ability to fight them in court.

crank

Maybe there should be a law against constructing homes so close to power lines. Read the article and previous comments, spirit3!

"Originally constructed in 1950 through farmland, the 161-kilovolt line now cuts through back yards and in some cases directly over homes that were built around it"

The power lines were there first. The yokels chose their low valued homes there but I can't imagine why. Maybe they thought the crackling of the rain drops on the hot wires was charming?

CarolOverland

There is a law, but it's that homes cannot be built under transmission lines. Conversely, those moving to the line moved to it, built near it, with that specific configuration in place, and did not agree to this upsized expansion. Sounds like Dairyland is moving TO the nuisance, increasing the problem, and should forge new agreements with the landowners because this upsized 161 kV is very different in character.

k

Always big corporations over people.Corprate responsibility to take peoples health and welfare into their planning..moral responsibilty maybe..just a tad instead of all dollar signs.

MELLO

Just what type of person would buy A house under A power line ? Why would A city or county allow people to live under high power lines. Was there money behind allowing this to happen???

Fidel Cashflow

One thing I take issue with is this: "Originally constructed in 1950 through farmland, the 161-kilovolt line now cuts through back yards and in some cases directly over homes that were built around it as development pushed north..."

So, in most cases the power lines and easements which created the corridor for the transmission lines existed BEFORE people decided to come in, build homes and park their trailers. They knew they were there and likely weren't concerned about the voltage, EMF or crackling rain and snow until after they moved in. Did they think the lines would never need maintenance? Would we stop needing the electricity carried by these lines and they would eventually be taken out?

If the lines were new and being put in AFTER their homes and trailers were in place, this would be a different story. If you don't like the power lines, move.

MrsJohnson

I find it very funny that those living in the Town of Onalaska are more concerned about power lines when the power goes out with each storm, and the fact that there is a level 7 superflow old nuclear toxic dump down there on the prairie. You people make me laugh. Why in the world would we not update 1950's technology, what is safer; old or new? This seems like a duh to me, but hey what would I know, those power lines are only 65 years old, yeah they couldn't be a hazard (sarcasm)

CarolOverland

This project is not a simple replacement of old infrastructure, it's a big increase in capacity, like over 100% (details fuzzy because Dairyland will not divulge the info). Bigger conductors (795 ACSS), bigger transformers, and everything else to go with it, and towers nearly twice the size to provide extra clearance. Why won't Dairyland tell us the details? Ask them! And while you're at it, ask them their plan for the fiberoptic in the shield wires, how much revenue that generates, and what their plans are for that!

crank

According to the fact sheets, the line will stay at 161Kv. The conductor is different and the transformers are different which may be explained by technology advances which have occurred in the 65 years hence. Ultimately, I'm certain you're right about the increase in capacity.

I suspect the motive for this is far less sinister than you're implying, Carol. Demand for electric power is certainly higher than in 1950 when the lines were installed. It seems prudent that Dairyland would plan for increased capacity while replacing conductor. It is their responsibility to deliver that power to consumers and we love to run our air conditioners when it's hot.

If Dairyland finds ways to use that infrastructure to generate revenue (e.g. fiberoptic), tuck that away and bring it up the next time they demand a rate increase. The extra revenue should only help keep rates lower.

CarolOverland

Yes, will stay at 161 kV, but the conductors will upsize to 795 ACSS per MISO, so yes, much higher capacity. What will they do with fiberoptic revenue? Who knows, Dairyland isn't saying. It should certainly be returned to Dairyland's members, but something tells me that's not how it works. Dairyland, what's the scoop? What's the plan? p.s., demand is down from the 2006-2007 peak and there's a power surplus, wholesale electric prices are low, low, low. And fyi, no, I don't run an air conditioner!

restofstory

And where do you live, Mrs. Johnson? I've talked to people on the prairie and they like the fact that they live by an old nuclear toxic dump. It reminds them of the good old days...

Fidel Cashflow

Yeah, nobody talks about the level 7 superflow nuclear waste site anymore. People got pretty quiet when those who knew too much about it and the secret abandoned alien space port started disappearing. Does Mr. Johnson know you're using the computer again?

Those living in the town are painfully aware of the old landfill site on the prairie. Perhaps that's why they're concerned when people tell them not to worry about bigger power lines.

Clarification

I was reacting to the comment that included, "Let's see, we have the new towers BECAUSE we need to send the power being generated by the windmills in Iowa and Minnesota" as if clean energy in those states was somehow the CAUSE of all this ringing of hands. And then, "Speak up Greenies... Anyone, anyone???" My point was if you don't want the clean power from MN or IA find some other way of getting it, such as using your own power plants to make the power, but don't complain about states that are far more progressive than Wisconsin. That these states that produce clean power and your problems with transmission lines in Wisconsin are not directly related. I'm trying to "quash dissemination" of statements that show a lack of critical thinking.

CarolOverland

The CapX project, which is NOT about wind, and NOT about serving local load -- it's for the surplus coal from the Dakotas past Madison to market. CapX was predicated on their forecast of a 2.49% annual increase, which as we know, instead, is level or decreasing. CapX and MVP MISO are the largest transmission buildout in history, and through the FERC approved MISO rates, provide utilities with their major revenue stream growth. Upset about your electric bill going up? Well, talk to the utilities who are making 12.38% ROI on transmission for market, and check out their presentations in financing circles bragging about transmission being the driver for rate increases. To add insult to injury, they took land via eminent domain for this private purpose (market) project. We're pass through states, but we're paying the price, and our rates will continue to go up as they put these projects into the rate base.

crank

Yes, I agree. Rate-payers here are paying for CapX and we are not benefiting from it at all.

restofstory

More lovely towers to ruin our landscape. Let's see, we have the new towers because we need to send the power being generated by the windmills in Iowa and Minnesota. So, a big thank you to the "green" people for the lovely, rusty, giants that now mar our scenic Wisconsin country side. Speak up Greenies... Anyone, anyone???

Clarification

Why not just shut up and get your own windmills or coal plants or nuclear?

CarolOverland

Ratepayers are the ones paying for transmission, they ARE ours, and many of us don't want them and don't want to pay for them. Shut up? Nope! There's this thing called the 1st Amendment! It's unfortunate you'd rather quash dissemination of information than learn about these projects.

oz

I'll call bullslop on your comment.

The utilities always claim that the new lines are to pump wind energy from the plains to markets in and around Chicago. They do this to erode resistance from locals.

The reality is that the lines are for coal power from Wyoming.

But even if what you say was true (it likely isn't), would you rather have power lines, or an endless parade of coal trains and exploding oil trains?

CarolOverland

The coal power is from ND, minemouth coal plants where CapX 2020 transmission starts.

Alan Muller

Nasty, nasty. These lines have mainly been for coal power. But I agree that too many "enviro" and energy wonk orgs have supported building more transmission without doing their homework.

Tim Russell

Please provide a link to verify your claim.

Alan Muller

This is a well-presented story. Ms. Overland is expert in this stuff.

Note that "EMF" actually refers to two different type of fields that behave differently. Electric fields are related basically to voltage levels and distance. Magnetic fields are related basically to current levels (Amps) and distance.

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