PUC chooses Belle Plaine crossing

Filed under:Brookings Routing Docket — posted by admin on February 4, 2011 @ 10:00 am

Yesterday, the Public Utilities Commission “chose” to route the Minnesota River Crossing at Belle Plaine.  I put that in quotes because once the MnDOT scenic easements became public information it was clear that the LeSueur route was not feasible.  These scenic easements were first raised by the DOT on April 4, 2009, but not public until December, 2009 during the public hearings, and this is something the Applicants knew or should have known, and right after April 30, 2009 at the earliest, they should have been ordered by the PUC to go back to the drawing board and come up with another feasible route so that the application would comply with the state requirement of TWO feasible routes.

Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr… Yesterday’s meeting sucked… as one who advocates for regular people affected by utility infrastructure, and who urges people to stand up, to testify, to tell the Commission what they think, I was appalled at Commissioner O’Brien’s actions, he is at best clueless to the impacts of his words, and at worst… well, it won’t help to go there.  But I think it’s time he found something else to do, his actions have hurt the credibility of the Commission.

Here’s the tape of it, see for yourself how O’Brien behaved:

PUC Meeting February 3, 2011

Theresa Ruhland is a landowner who had participated since before the application, going to their pre-application meetings, before any route had been proposed.  In the application, her farm was on the section of route where the “Preferred Route” and the “Alternate Route” overlapped, the only part where there were not TWO distinct options.  She was on the Task Force and proposed specific alternate options that would provide two distinct and separate route possibilities.


She attended every public meeting, attended the evidentiary hearings, and every PUC meeting about this project.  She warned them over and over and over, orally, in comments, in testimony, both applicants and MOES, about RES, the fireworks factory next door to her farm, noting that fireworks and electric transmission lines are NOT compatible.  Yet despite this constant and thoughtful participation, at the very end, as hearings were concluding, when they had not acknowledged the RES problems, RES intervened and suddenly MOES and applicants take the fireworks problem seriously, acknowledge that transmission shouldn’t cross over a fireworks factory (!) and then so late in the game they announced they would put it diagonally over her farm!!!  Since then have also been drawing attention to the unfairness of this process in a respectful and factual manner.

Several Belle Plaine people made reference to the Commission giving unfair/unjust weight to the positions of “two individuals” meaning the Ruhlands and Katzenmeyers, who have participated extensively and who submitted “Exceptions” for consideration by the Commission.  I wish that those who were critical had taken the time to review the record and the history of the way in which the Ruhlands’ and Kazenmeyers’ land was targeted so very late in the process, a process that both families had actively participated in from the beginning, and beginning at a time when they were not directly affected!  That they were targeted so late, in both cases it was in December, 2009, during the hearings, it is hard to believe it was anything but payback for their advocacy.  Katzenmeyers didn’t even get formal notice until after the public hearings were over!!!  Both Ruhlands and Katzenmeyers consistently raised problems that neither the applicants nor MOES wanted to consider, and when they couldn’t avoid dealing with those RES and MnDOT problems, the applicants then proposed carving up Ruhlands’ and Katzenmeyers’ land.  It’s MOES primarily that should get hit with the criticism for failing to produce or act on information provided by the various state and federal agency commentors that rendered routes unworkable.

Back to the meeting… First, the remand was framed in an odd way, couched in terms of seeking more information on a USFWS letter of 6/10/10, which was NOT the root of their problems.  What was driving this was that late in the process, a year after the application was submitted, we learned of DOT scenic easements that rendered the LeSueur crossing unworkable — the DOT had raised these issues, the DNR had raised river crossing and eagle issues EIGHT MONTHS PRIOR, but their input was ignored.  That information did not makes its way into the record until the public hearings were underway, and THE APRIL 30, 2009 SCOPING LETTERS OF THE DOT AND DNR RAISING THESE ISSUES AS SCOPING CONCERNS WERE NOT ENTERED INTO THE EVIDENTIARY RECORD EVER!  EVER! USFWS 4/30/09 scoping letter got into the record only through citizen efforts at the public hearing in December 2009!  After it became public in December, Applicants scurried to find a way to make the LeSueur crossing work, but the way was “the Myrick alternative” which was not a legitimate option for the PUC because it had not received any environmental review.  That’s the purple part of the map below.


The PUC, however, never admitted this fundamental problem, and remanded it to the OAH as if there were two possible options for crossing the Minnesota River.  That fiction prevailed even through yesterday.  I guess to admit the fiction would mean they would have to start over from the beginning.

In the remand, “Applicants” (we still to not know who owners are) shifted to “prefer” the Belle Plaine crossing, and MOES staff recommended the “Gibbon crossover and Belle Plaine crossing” to the PUC.  Applicants and MOES well know the fiction, and Belle Plaine was clearly screwed.   The ALJ’s remand “recommendation” was yet another “non-recommendation” just like the first, “Pick A, and if not A, Pick B” which was not helpful.  He didn’t recommend one route over another — it may have been difficult for those not used to reading through these ALJ recommendations, but it didn’t ultimately recommend anything.

ALJ Recommendation for Remand – Brookings CapX Transmission

Commissioners Wergin and Reha both commented on it being the only “Recommendation” they could recall that did not come out in favor of one or the other.  My take is that the ALJ’s opinion reflected the infeasibility of either route — this line should not cross the river.  Unfortunately, no one has the gonads to state it directly…

The oral arguments were a rehash of the rehash. The Applicants want it somewhere, just give us a permit, we don’t really care, but Belle Plaine is now our “preferred” crossing, sort of…  I argued infeasibility, that they knew or should have known back in April 2009 at the very latest that the LeSueur route was not feasible, and should have been required to come up with two FEASIBLE routes before proceeding.  I urged that they reject the Segment 4 permit request, without prejudice, and let them come back if and when they had a feasible route.

NoCapX and U-CAN are dismayed with the PUC’s decision, and think the applicants should have been sent away, that it should not have been considered where there were not two valid route possibilities.  It was a stacked deck against Belle Plaine, but that was never acknowledged.  Meanwhile, nobody, no group, no local government, intervened in the Remand (I’d argued and won an opening for intervention as a place-holder for those not present, oh well…).  While NoCapX 2020 and U-CAN argued for rejection of the permit, and object to the decision, we also are grateful that the Ruhlands and katzenmeyers land was avoided after all they’ve been through.  They are two families who had actively participated since before the project was even applied for, and who at the last minute were unfairly targeted by the utilities so late in the process that they had little recourse.  This routing process was series of fundamental process violations, but because the process violations were focused on the Modified Preferred route (because they wanted to ram that through no matter what??) the process violations aren’t regarding the chosen route, so my take is that the aspects begging for legal action are moot.

I think everyone involved will agree that yesterday’s PUC meeting really sucked.   Except for the Applicants who got their routing permit, we’re all losers in this, the Commission, the parties, the participating agencies, the landowners, the ratepayers.  People are affected by these decisions, and as CapX 2020 comes roaring through, the momentum of outrage will start to reverberate through the state.

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