The East Bethel City Council May 16 approved a route for Great River Energy’s (GRE) 69 kilovolt (kV) transmission line.
Mayor Richard Lawrence and Councilmembers Robert DeRoche, Jr. and Heidi Moegerle approved the route. Councilmember Steve Voss declined to vote, which City Attorney Mark Vierling said counted as an abstention. Councilmember Bill Boyer was absent.
Becky Kninsley was the spokesperson for the group during public forum at the May 16 council meeting. Kninsley, who has lived along Sunset Road on the East Bethel side since 1995, said that she received 94 signatures on a petition opposing Route I-1. The petition was signed by people from different areas of the city in addition to those along Sunset Road, she said.
“If you vote to approve the amended Route I-1 tonight, what you will be doing is wrong,” Kninsley said May 16. “Look at the petitions. If we had more time, we would have a lot more signatures. Table the vote until next month I will bring you more.”
Councilmember Heidi Moegerle said if she could have a transmission line in her back yard and the electricity could magically get to where it needs to go, she said she would do this as her civic duty.
“It’s a terrible thing to impose that civic duty on others,” Moegerle said.
According to Voss, the council did not have enough time to analyze this route, which enters East Bethel from Athens Township 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.
“What’s before us now did not receive the public input as the other routes did,” Voss said. “It’s like we’re working in a vacuum.”
A route called Route I-1 was approved by the council in October 2011, despite GRE not applying for the route and the two sides still being in litigation. GRE sued the city in August 2011 after the council denied the energy company’s preferred route.
In October 2011, Route I-1 did go along Durant Street and follow Fawn Lake Drive like the new Route I-1 does. The major difference is the old Route I-1 approved in October 2011 continued along Fawn Lake Drive into Linwood Township. The new Route I-1 concept cuts south on Sunset Drive and then east on 229th Avenue.
Moegerle said the GRE transmission line issue has been in the public eye for some time.
“People have a civic duty to be aware of what’s going on,” Moegerle said. “I understand that people are concerned now, but this is the type of process that began early on. We gave the duly required notice by statute. I’m not saying that’s ideal, but what more can we do as a city?”
Voss said the city could notify the residents.
Moegerle said if Voss did not feel the city was not adequately notifying people, councilmembers could have approached residents to make them aware of what is going on.
“What I know is that councilmembers go to residents and say, ‘Hey, this is coming up. You need to be aware of it. If you felt the people on Sunset Road were not getting the appropriate notice, why didn’t you take it upon yourself to give them that notice?” she said.
“It’s not my duty as an individual to go do that,” Voss said regarding him not going to talk to the residents. “The statement was as a city we should be doing that. That’s what is right. It may not change the decision. It may not change the evaluation, but we could have done it and we didn’t.”
The Athens Township Planning Commission approved the route Thursday night (May 17). The town boards of Athens and Linwood township will reportedly take up this matter next week.
Peter Schaub, senior field representative for GRE, said the new transmission line could be operational by the summer of 2014 under a best case scenario. He said the next steps if all three communities approve the route would be to finalize the engineering plans, and contact residents to negotiate easement purchases and compensation for tree and other vegetation removal.
GRE has stated that the importance of this transmission line is that it would provide support to and enable the growth of the principal substations that serve East Bethel and many surrounding communities, according to GRE Planning Engineer Tim Mickelson. He said without the line, businesses and homes would be at risk of experiencing low voltage which can cause damage to the motors of household appliances and electric system equipment. To avoid this, GRE would have to do rolling blackouts at some points.
East Bethel hired an independent consultant who agreed that the line is necessary.
The May 25 edition of ABC Newspapers will have more on this developing story.
A large group of residents who mostly lived along the eastern portion of 229th Avenue overflowed the council chambers on May 6, 2009 to raise concerns about the impact the transmission line would have on their properties. “We’ve already taken a beating on our property taxes,” said resident Lou Cornicelli at this May 2009 meeting. “What’s this going to do to our property values and then with the revenue the city takes in as our assessments go down again?”
After the May 6, 2009 meeting, the council at its next meeting passed a moratorium forbidding transmission line development in East Bethel until a city ordinance governing the review process was completed. The council approved the new ordinance on Jan. 6, 2010, while GRE protested that the city was overstepping its legal authority.
The city formed a work group on Sept. 1, 2010 to review various routes that GRE looked at.
GRE later made an application for a different route called Route A, and the council on June 22, 2011 denied the permit request to construct this line in East Bethel. GRE on Aug. 19, 2011 filed a lawsuit against the city in Anoka County District Court. The lawsuit is still pending.
Cornicelli now serves on the planning commission and was involved in an East Bethel work group that explored over a dozen route options.
Cornicelli abstained from voting on the new route at the recent May 8 planning commission meeting, almost three years to the day he first came before the council, because of his personal ties to this issue.
He did participate in the discussion and had strong words for GRE’s role in all this. He said that the Route I-1 path through East Bethel is the exact same route that GRE presented to the council in December 2008. He said to GRE that all the stuff that has happened could have been avoided if all sides had been brought together.
Planning commission member Glenn Terry also abstained because he felt the route should be going down Typo Creek Drive instead of Sunset Road. However, East Bethel has no jurisdiction to tell the Linwood Township Board where the line should go in its community.
Joseph Pelewa voted against the route because he feels there are other options. A few residents at the May 8 public hearing brought up the idea of bringing the line south along Hupp Street to potentially impact fewer residents.
The other four commissioners voted for the new Route I-1. They were Tanner Belfany, Lorraine Bonin, Eldon Holmes and Brian Mundle.
Eric Hagen is at firstname.lastname@example.org