ELLSWORTH – The first time many property owners heard of plans to build a high-voltage transmission line along their street was when the marker flags and stakes showed up.
And by then, the decision had already been made.
“Most of us found out about it when we started seeing stakes in our front yards,” said Caleb Schultz, one of about 100 people who live along 10th and 11th roads in western Ellsworth County, where Wind Capital Group is planning to build a line to connect a wind farm in the northern part of the county to a power substation in Rice County. Construction is scheduled to start in September.
The 134 turbines will generate 201 megawatts of power, and “one of the necessary parts of the project is getting the power to market,” explained Dean Baumgardner, executive vice president of Wind Capital.
Baumgardner said the 31-mile route was chosen as the most direct route between the wind farm and the substation.
“Given federal regulatory agencies, environmental concerns and the effect on landowners, we want as direct a route as possible,” he said. “Fish and wildlife and the Corps of Engineers prefer we use areas that are already developed – rather than go through pristine areas.”
This doesn’t seem right
Kent Janssen said he first found out about the proposed transmission line by reading about it in the minutes of an Ellsworth County Commission meeting.
“But I had no clue about the size, that it was going to be a main transmission line, with 75-foot poles,” he said. “Just to have stakes start showing up, and being told this is going to happen just doesn’t seem right.”
Janssen said the line will run within 100 yards of some homes, and predicts the line will lower property values.
“There’s plenty of room to run this and not get within a quarter or a half-mile of a house,” he said, noting that such transmission lines usually cut cross country, rather than following a road.
Susan Thorton is also “disappointed” with both Wind Capital and the county commission.
“I really was disappointed that we found out through neighbors,” she said. “They should have gotten our opinions before decisions were made. We at least would have felt like we had our say – and if they’d listened to our concerns, it might not have turned out that way.”
It’s out of our hands
Ellsworth County Commissioner Kermit Rush said the discussion now needs to be between Wind Capital and people along the proposed route.
“It’s kind of out of our hands,” he said. “We have an agreement to let them use the right of way.”
Rush said that in the past, the county has worked with two other wind farm projects, “and those were never a problem.”
“As commissioners, we make a lot of decisions,” Rush said. “If we had to call the public each time, I’m not sure we’d get anything done.”
We all like wind power
None of those interviewed said they oppose wind power in general, or the Wind Capital project.
“I have no problem with wind power, or with transmission lines,” Thorton said. “Just not right on top of our homes.”
“I want to stress, I am for wind energy, and I’m for the transmission line,” Janssen said. “I’m happy for the guys up north that are getting the towers – we just want the line run in a responsible way.”
Janssen added that he’d been neutral on wind power up to 2006 – when the first wind company to build in Ellsworth County hosted a meeting with county commissioners to outline its plans to the public.
As for not talking to people along the route first, Baumgardner said he’s been involved in projects like this for years, and “No matter who you talk to first, the other one always thinks you should have talked with them first,” he said. “We approached the county and township people first. We’ve met with every landowner along the route, now – but hadn’t when we first met with the local governments.”
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