Approvals in place for new transmission line

Great River Energy (GRE) has all the approvals it needs to construct a 10.5-mile 69 kilovolt (kV) transmission line in northern Anoka County and southern Isanti County.

This map shows Route A that Great River Energy proposed last summer and the final route that Athens and Linwood townships and the city of East Bethel recently agreed to.
This map shows Route A that Great River Energy proposed last summer and the final route that Athens and Linwood townships and the city of East Bethel recently agreed to.

Without the line, businesses and homes would be at risk of experiencing low voltage, which could damage machinery such as home appliances, according to GRE Planning Engineer Tim Mickelson. Rolling blackouts may have been necessary to prevent this from happening, he said.

GRE’s goal has been to have a new 69 kV transmission line between the Athens Substation just east of Highway 65 on County Road 56 to the Martin Lake Substation in Linwood Township in Anoka County. The problem has been finding a route that GRE, Athens Township, East Bethel and Linwood Township could agree with.

The most recent route that the Athens Town Board approved June 4 and the East Bethel City Council approved May 16 calls for a 10.5-mile route. GRE spokesperson Lori Buffington said GRE plans to attend the Linwood Town Board meeting June 26 to provide an update and answer questions about the topic. Linwood Township does not have an ordinance in place that requires a formal permit, Buffington said.

Now that GRE has the approvals it needs, it will work with each individual property owner along the entire route to discuss specific pole placements, tree removals and other issues that come up.

“We do the best we can to balance each property owner’s needs with our engineering requirements,” Buffington said.

The new transmission line could be operational by the summer of 2014 under a best case scenario, according to Peter Schaub, senior field representative for GRE.

Route in Athens

The route that GRE proposed during summer 2011 would have run two miles south along Hastings Street in Athens Township within an existing transmission line easement, according to GRE’s map of what was called Route A.

The council denied this route because it was concerned about the number of people and natural resources the line would have impacted in East Bethel. As a result, GRE filed a lawsuit against East Bethel in August 2011 for denying its Route A application. Mediation sessions followed and a final route proposal called Amended Route I-1 was formulated with input from all three communities, Buffington noted.

Schaub said the final route that the Athens Town Board approved June 4 will have approximately five miles of line in Athens.

However, the Isanti County News reported that Athens Planning and Zoning Coordinator Jim Braun said the poles will be slid across the road to be installed on state-owned Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve property as much as possible. Athens Township approved transmission line route on a 5-0 vote. Buffington told the Anoka County Union that GRE has discussed this with Cedar Creek officials as well.

No annexation, ball field, road project

Braun and East Bethel officials confirmed that an agreement between Athens Township and East Bethel came out of mediation that pertained to road improvement projects along 245th Avenue and an agreement that East Bethel would not attempt to annex Athens Township for 25 years.

“The non-annexation agreement with East Bethel, the agreement to fix two jurisdictional roads (jurisdictional roads are those on the boundaries—in this case, half in East Bethel and half in Athens) and the GRE contribution to the ball field were all a result of court-ordered mediation between the three entities and are intended to compensate Athens Township for the time and expense developing a route for the power line that is amenable to all parties,” Braun said in a written statement.

GRE is donating $105,000 to Athens Township for a second baseball field at Mann Park, according to Buffington.

East Bethel Mayor Richard Lawrence told the Anoka County Union that economically, it does not make sense for East Bethel to annex Athens Township. The only real developable area would be the Highway 65 corridor and the city would be taking on more road maintenance responsibility.

Councilmember Steve Voss said the road project is mutually beneficial to both cities.

According to East Bethel City Administrator Jack Davis, East Bethel will pay an estimated $35,000 for road improvement projects along 245th Avenue. A dirt road segment from University Avenue to about 2,000 feet east of there will get a Class 5 surface. The other project would head west from Highway 65 to the entrance of the Castle Towers mobile home park entrance. About 300 feet of this pavement will get an overlay. Another 400 feet is a dirt road that would get a Class 5 surface. Davis noted that Athens would help with ongoing maintenance.

Eric Hagen is at