For well over three years, Great River Energy (GRE) has been trying to build a 69 kilovolt (kV) transmission line that would go through the communities of Athens Township, East Bethel and Linwood Township.
The Maple Grove wholesale power company, which is working on this project on behalf of Connexus Energy and East Central Energy, may be closer to a resolution on a route.
The East Bethel Planning Commission May 8 approved the portion of the route that would go through its own city but heard from plenty of people in Linwood Township as well because a portion of the route is along Sunset Road, which is the border for the two communities.
The East Bethel City Council will take up the matter Wednesday night (May 16). An update on the council’s decision will be posted on the ABC Newspapers website (www.abcnewspapers.com).
If the council approves the route, this could lead to GRE dropping its lawsuit against the city of East Bethel for denying a previous route, and Athens and Linwood townships could vote on the route.
This has been far from an easy process, several members of the planning commission told residents who were sitting shoulder to shoulder in the council chambers May 8 for a public hearing on what is being referred to as Route I-1. One commissioner said that the portion of the route in East Bethel is exactly the same as it was when GRE senior field representative Peter Schaub presented a route proposal to the council Dec. 3, 2008.
The route in that December 2008 proposal and the most recent proposal enters East Bethel along Durant Street, cuts east on Fawn Lake Drive on the north side of Fish Lake and then cuts south on Sunset Road before entering Linwood Township along the 229th Avenue corridor.
However, GRE in subsequent months greatly altered the route without the city’s knowledge, according to councilmembers and city staff in May 2009. The newly proposed route would have impacted East Bethel far more than the previously route. It would have cut south on Hastings Street from the Athens Township border, went east along 237th Avenue, Gopher Drive and 229th Avenue before going into Linwood Township. This route would later become known as Route A.
Much has happened over the past three years. The city developed a new ordinance to detail how transmission line projects would be reviewed, the council in June 2011 denied GRE’s application for a route called Route A, GRE filed a lawsuit against East Bethel in Anoka County District Court in August 2011 and the city, townships and GRE have subsequently been having mediation sessions to come to a route resolution. The new Route I-1 is what came out of this.
According to Planning Commissioner Eldon Holmes, he and two other members of the planning commission were on the transmission line work group formed in September 2010 and have spent countless hours reviewing different route proposals that GRE looked at.
Tanner Belfany was on the roads commission at the time and Lou Cornicelli served as a resident at large. Both were subsequently appointed to the commission after applying for vacancies that opened up.
Holmes said that cost was only one issue the work group looked at. It also looked at how natural resources, people and archeological sites would be impacted, for example.
One key statistic that the commissioners looked at was they counted 76 East Bethel homes that would be along Route A, which GRE had applied for last year. On the other hand, there would be 33 East Bethel homes along Route I-1. Information on how many Athens and Linwood townships homes are along either of these routes was not available before this story went to press.
“The city of East Bethel has fought for the best of the community,” Holmes said. “There is always going to be someone that isn’t happy. I wouldn’t like it in my yard.”
Holmes made these comments after a 92-year-old resident, Ann Jones, raised concerns about losing trees along the heavily forested Sunset Road. She has lived on that property for 41 years and has red pines that are 40 to 50 years old.
“I just can’t simply understand what’s going on,” she said. “I was always very proud of East Bethel. I always thought it was a great place. I just don’t know what to think now.” Her comments drew applause.
Holmes said she should be proud of East Bethel because it fought for the residents.
Schaub said Route I-1 is the second least expensive route. Route A would have been the cheapest. Route I-1 traverses 10.5 miles in all three communities. Route A would have been 10.4 miles long.
According to Schaub, GRE only has cost estimates, but estimated that Route I-1 could be about $300,000 more expensive than Route A. Increased costs directly impact GRE, but Schaub said it does ultimately go back to the customers of the 28 electrical companies GRE works with throughout the state.
Becky Knisley said she and her husband moved to East Bethel to be in a rural area. She knows they need electricity, but she wonders why the city denied Route A. In her mind, the city turned it down because some neighbors were screaming about it. She said you expect power lines on county roads, but not rural residential streets like Sunset Road.
Knisley said the map that came in the mail with the May 8 public hearing notification was “pathetic” because it was difficult to read, they did not see other proposed routes and there was no historical context on how the route got to this point.
“Just thinking about it makes me very sad and disappointed and upset,” said Lucinda Johnson, who lives along Fawn Lake Drive in East Bethel.
Eric Hagen is at firstname.lastname@example.org