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 a 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 and I will bring you more.”
Moegerle said if she could have a transmission line in her backyard 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.
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, which headed south on Durant Street and cut east on 229th Avenue.
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.
In an e-mail to the Anoka County Union, Moegerle said she and City Administrator Jack Davis attended all mediation sessions concerning this issue. Boyer also attended the first session with them, and Lawrence attended the second session in Boyer’s place.
Moegerle said that at the second mediation session, GRE sent a message to East Bethel through the mediator that if East Bethel could come up with a route that the other jurisdictions and Cedar Creek could agree on, then GRE would strongly consider it.
Peter Schaub, senior field representative for GRE, said the route is subject to tweaking based on soils, topography and social issues. Although GRE has a basic route, which side of the road the line goes on has to be determined through final engineering.
Schaub said the new transmission line could be operational by the summer of 2014 under a best case scenario. He said the next step 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.
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 and to avoid this, GRE would have to do rolling blackouts at some points, Mickelson said.
East Bethel hired an independent consultant who agreed that the line is necessary.
“Great River Energy is happy the situation is resolved and we plan to proceed with building the project that will help ensure reliable electric service to customers throughout the city of East Bethel, Athens Township, Linwood Township and the surrounding areas,” Schaub wrote in an e-mail to the Anoka County Union.
Debating the impacts
At the May 8 Planning Commission public hearing, residents from East Bethel and Linwood Township raised concerns about the new proposed route and the process.
One Linwood Township resident questioned why the city would be denying a route that would be more direct, impact less people and cost less. She was referring to why the council denied Route A last year.
The woman said that East Bethel has more development and will be getting more than the surrounding communities, but does not seem to want to share the burden of having the line in its community.
Eldon Holmes, planning commission member, said that this line “is not for East Bethel” and that it would really be a back-up service for Linwood Township.
Schaub said this line is for the region beyond these three communities. It goes all the way to Cambridge and Elk River, for example.
Lou Cornicelli, a member of the planning commission, said the city found that there are 76 East Bethel homes along Route A and 33 homes along the amended Route I-1. Breaking this down further, East Bethel sees that there could be 18 instances where a line could be located on an East Bethel homeowner’s property in Route A and eight in Route I-1.
At the Anoka County Union’s request GRE provided information regarding affected properties in all three communities along new Route I-1. According to GRE, it defines an impacted property as one which GRE has to purchase easement from to construct a power line and that the numbers are preliminary because survey work and more detailed engineering work still needs to take place.
For now, GRE estimates that new Route I-1 would impact 13 properties in Athens Township, 10 properties in East Bethel and 20 properties in Linwood Township.
If Route A had been chosen, East Bethel estimated that about 30 homes in a one-mile stretch of 229th Avenue between Durant Street and Sunset Road would have had a transmission line going by their property. Residents along new Route I-1 were skeptical about this calculation.
“The 30-some homes on the last mile of 229th Avenue will not have to be sold to GRE,” Moegerle said during the May 16 meeting. “Those people would lose their houses because of how close it would be. It would impact those homes more directly than the way it’s going to be on this route (I-1).”
The Anoka County Union asked GRE to comment on Moegerle’s statement about the homes being impacted on 229th Avenue. Schaub said, “It’s rare that we can’t come to a negotiated agreement and enter into eminent domain proceedings. It’s our goal on any project to design it to minimize impacts and it’s premature to discuss direct impact to homes along any route.”
Besides homes, impacts to natural resources and archeological sites have been other factors that have impacted the route selection. East Bethel said new Route I-1 impacts fewer wetlands and other natural areas than old Route I-1. A big factor is that Route A would have traveled along the south side of the Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve when the line is on the north side of 229th Avenue.
Lawrence said he has been down new Route I-1 twice with Davis. He knows it will impact people.
“With that being said I still think it’s the best route we came up with,” Lawrence said. “It’s the least impact to the citizens of East Bethel.”
Jared Trost, who was unable to attend the May 8 planning commission meeting, sent a letter with a number of different questions. He asked about the cost difference, for example. Schaub said Route A was estimated to cost about $3.6 million while new Route I-1 is estimated to cost about $3.9 million. He said customers of the 28 electrical companies GRE works with throughout the state would ultimately cover cost increases. The route lengths are very similar, about 10.5 miles long.
Eric Hagen is at firstname.lastname@example.org