Waiting… waiting…

Filed under:Uncategorized — posted by admin on May 20, 2013 @ 12:03 pm


Dog waiting for his owners to come (attribution)

Waiting for the decision of the Appellate Court.  It’s due soon… this month.  While that’s going on, Rochester Post Bulletin seems to have soy ink to spare to write about waiting.  Seems also Oronoco Township spent “a couple hundred thousand dollars” on “fighting the project.”

Below is what the Post Bulletin had to say, yes, it does go on, in search of hope that Oronoco will turn that decision around, and utterly ignoring the failure of the contractor, Barr Engineering, to get the “pre-existing corridor” characterization right, at BOTH dams where they had an interest, and then the Commerce employee in charge of this project, Matt Langan, resigned and went to work for Xcel Energy (on the other hand, the Xcel Energy employee in charge of this project (Tom Hillstrom) quit to work on light rail for the Met Council — does that make it even?  Noooooo!  Not even close.).

The PB has also taken a very narrow look at this and doesn’t know and/or omits basic facts.  From the sidebar:

Planning began in 2006 for the $2.2-billion CapX2020 project that will connect Minnesota, Wisconsin and North Dakota to an improved energy grid by 2015, with South Dakota being added by 2017.

The route of the 345-kilovolt line from the Pine Island area to the Mississippi River has been one of the most controversial aspects of the project. Oronoco Township in Olmsted County has asked the Minnesota Court of Appeals to block the approved route across the township and send it back to the Public Utilities Commission for reconsideration.

About that first paragraph: Planning formally began in 2004, released in 2005 in the May 11, 2005 Capx 2020 Technical Update, in Kaul CapX letter – Sept 6 2005 – BSII, and October 2005 CapX Technical Update – Wisc PSC Docket 05-CE-136 entered by No CapX/CETF Item 5, but there are fingerprints in the WRAO Report from 1998 that gathered a the most amazing group of electrical engineers who put together a long laundry list of transmission lines, a transmission planner’s dream.  HELLO, it was APPLIED FOR in Minnesota in 2006 — search for PUC Docket 06-1115.

And that second paragraph: Have they not heard about the Minnesota River crossing on the Brookings line?  Or the Avon Township/St. John’s area on the Fargo line?  Wake up, it’s not all about the monied interests driving the Rochester Post Bulletin.

In this docket, they are ignoring the crossing of the Cannon River near Lake Byllesby, where the contractor, Barr Engineering, conveniently failed to disclose in the EIS that there was a massive transmission corridor along route 1P-003, the same area where that contractor had another contract to work on the Byllesby Regional Park Master Plan.  They’re completely ignoring the issues raised by Cannon Falls landowners and St. Paul’s Lutheran School and Church.  And then there’s the route in Wisconsin, through Holmen, next to the school…  “One of the most controversial aspects of this project?”

Appellate Court Briefs of note:

Initial Brief – St. Paul’s Lutheran School and Church and Cannon Falls Landowners

Reply Brief – Cannon Falls Landowners and St. Paul’s Lutheran School and Church

Laymen for Christ o/o of Woodland Camp (only one – Laymen for Christ is Respondent)

There have been at least one thousand very concerned people across Minnesota who put thousands of hours of time into fighting this CapX 2020 project over the last 9 years.  TAKE OFF THE BLINDERS!

And “pitting neighbor against neighbor” started in this Hampton-La Crosse routing docket when Oronoco Township strongly and specifically stated that it was advocating a “stick it there” strategy and said that the transmission line should go on the North Route, was even quoted as saying so in the Rochester Post Bulletin.  After they threw down the gloves, just before the intervention deadline, the  North Route Group intervened and presented factual, credible testimony and exhibits what were not challenged.  The manner in which the township approached this was disturbing, with witnesses making gross misrepresentations, such as Smith testifying about the impacts on supposedly existing developments, such as Zumbro Sound:

Oronoco witness Smith testified that when he said “developed” he meant they were “completed, construction is completed, ready for occupancy.” After plat maps of several subdivisions were entered into the record, and he was questioned about specifics of each subdivision plat map entered, and he then agreed, contrary to his prior testimony, that there were many vacant lots in the subdivisions. Ex. 86, Plat Maps of Landings at Sandy Pointe, Zumbo Haven, and Zumbro Sound.  Testimony of Smith, Tr. Vol. 2, p. 44-81. Smith testified that in Zumbro Sound subdivision, seven units were constructed, but agreed when questioned, that it was likely that only three homes had been built. Id. Broberg, when questioned about these subdivisions, also agreed there were many vacant lots. Testimony of Broberg, Tr. Vol. 2, p. 133-134. When questioned about the location of the subdivisions, Mr. Smith that the nearest one, Zumbro Haven, is about a quarter mile away from the proposed alignment, and Sandy Point, about one half mile away. Id., p. 82-84. None of these subdivisions is directly affected by the transmission line as proposed.  (See those citations — really, I couldn’t make this stuff up!!!)

And Oronoco witness Jeff Broberg, the guy who testified that Lake Zumbro is the only lake in Olmsted County, how credible can he be?  Well, here’s his “Exhibit 7” representing the boat as pulling up to the landing, when in fact you can’t get there from here, the boat landing at the White Bridge Road is closed and has been for years and has a big ol’ overgrown sand bar in front of it (Barr Engineering had a contract regarding dredging of Lake Zumbro, they should know!):


If you look in the upper right corner over the bridge, you can see the distribution line that crosses White Bridge Road.  More importantly, here’s what that boat landing really looks like, the rest of the story, the true picture, this is not new, it’s been this way for years:


It’d be nice if the Post Bulletin would report the entire story, and not just that of the monied interest in this mess.


Back to the Post Bulletin:

‘Nobody is a winner’ in CapX routing dispute

Elizabeth Nida Obert / enida@postbulletin.com

Substation construction site, 1 mile north of Pine Island along Highway 52, west side of highway.

Posted: Saturday, May 18, 2013 10:30 am

Brett Boese, bboese@postbulletin.com

If Lake Zumbro area residents and stakeholders were divided into winners and losers with regard to current CapX 2020 power line plans, David Nelson and his Christian camp would be among the winners.

That said, he’s not happy about it. The executive director at Camp Victory Ministries says it’s “sad” that his camp was able to claim victory only by others having to deal with the power line route approved last year by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission.

“One of the things I can’t stand about this thing, personally, is that it pits neighbor against neighbor,” said Nelson. The camp hosts 1,200 kids each summer and up to 200 people on weekend retreats.

“Nobody is a winner when they have power lines running through their property. It pits Minnesotan against Minnesotan. I don’t know that there’s a way to avoid that, but it’s disappointing.”

Nelson’s unhappiness pales in comparison with people at the other end of Lake Zumbro, who have opened their wallets to fight the 345-kilovolt power line that’s planned for a corridor along Olmsted County Road 12, also known as White Bridge Road. Oronoco Township has spent “a couple hundred thousand dollars,” according to board chairman Mark Thein, in a legal battle that’s now at the Minnesota Court of Appeals.

A decision is due by June 20.

Change the route?

The township hopes to push the project from its current route along White Bridge Road in Olmsted County north across the Zumbro River Dam in Wabasha County. That change would put it right through Camp Victory en route to Wisconsin, potentially prompting additional legal action.

Thein is optimistic that the township appeal, which is based on procedural and factual disputes, will be successful, but a Red Wing attorney who represents more than 40 Wabasha County landowners opposing the Zumbro River Dam route says there’s virtually no chance of the appellate court shifting the route.

“I see it as such a remote possibility that I don’t see it happening,” said attorney Carol Overland, who also represents a Cannon Falls contingent opposing current CapX siting along U.S. 52. “It’s beyond a long shot.”

The PUC approved the southern route in April 2012, setting the stage for the current dispute.

Officials from Xcel Energy, one of the 11 entities involved in developing CapX, acknowledge that the project has created controversy as it’s been developed in Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota and South Dakota. Overland also represents a group that has filed a complaint seeking federal intervention.

CapX advocates argue that “hundreds” of local public meetings have been held where citizens have been allowed to voice their opinions. However, rapid growth in the Rochester area over the last 30 years has made upgrades to the energy grid a priority, according to Xcel officials.

“I could talk until I’m blue in the face about this,” said Tim Carlsgaard, communications director for Xcel Energy. “At the end of the day, it’s the PUC that selects the final routes. We give them options, but they have to pick what it is.”

Big picture

The CapX project has endured significant scrutiny – and criticism – in southeast Minnesota over the past few years, but it remains of broad regional significance.

About 800 miles of new transmission lines will be installed by 2017 when the project is fully operational. It includes five separate projects over four states, which is expected to create a new market for energy companies to purchase or distribute power across the region. That increased availability of energy, with an emphasis on cheap natural gas, will allow the decommissioning of other “dirty” energy sources, such as RPU’s coal plant at Silver Lake.

Carlsgaard said adding wind energy and other renewables from western Minnesota and the Dakotas to the energy grid would be a boon for the area.

“One of the benefits of upgrading the transmission grid is you can actually buy energy and bring it into your service area for cheaper than you can produce it,” Carlsgaard said.

“The transmission line has run out of gas as it comes into Rochester, and even more so now as the city continues to grow. Transmission is critical to solving all of these issues. It’s just like having a mutual fund and having all your money in large cap stock. You need to diversify. You need to make sure a city like Rochester has the electricity when it needs it.”

Already ‘hanging wires’

Despite legal uncertainty with the specific CapX route across the Zumbro River, progress has already begun to make that vision a reality.

Construction started in February to install a new substation in Pine Island, dubbed North Rochester by CapX officials. Upgrades on the existing Northern Hills substation in Rochester are also under way. Once those projects are complete, a 161-kilowatt line will be installed to connect the two.

Xcel hopes to begins “hanging wires” by June 1, Carlsgaard said.

Construction on a 345-kilovolt line connecting a new Hampton substation to the North Rochester site is expected to begin in June. The Hampton site will eventually be connected to South Dakota, while the North Rochester line will extend east into Wisconsin. By 2015, a 161-kilowatt line will branch off the main route to Chester, where another substation will be built.

Projects in Minnesota, Wisconsin and North Dakota are expected to be completed by 2015, while the developments in South Dakota are projected to wrap up in 2017.

While officials on all sides await a legal resolution, Camp Victory’s Nelson sees locals stuck in a no-win situation.

“Everybody is going to get impacted, one way or the other,” he said. “That’s the sad part. I’m arguing not on my land and you’re arguing not on your land.”


Decision day nears for CapX route

Elizabeth Nida Obert / enida@pos

Mark Thein of Oronoco Township stands on a property along the route of the CapX2020 line.

Posted: Saturday, May 18, 2013 10:15 am

Brett Boese, bboese@postbulletin.com

The components of power lines and towers are arrayed in a work yard near Pine Island, ready to be assembled. Work has begun on a new substation near the city, and by the end of the year, a new 161-kilovolt power line along U.S. 52 will connect it to an upgraded substation in Rochester.

This summer, trees will be cleared near Kellogg for the 345-kilovolt power line that will run from the Pine Island substation to the Mississippi River and south to La Crosse, Wis.

Here and elsewhere across Minnesota, the $2.2 billion CapX2020 project is marching ahead.

There are only a few roadblocks left. One is at the Minnesota Court of Appeals, courtesy of Oronoco Township and a contingent from Cannon Falls.

The township has petitioned the appeals court to force the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission to reconsider its approval of the CapX power line through the Lake Zumbro area. The PUC approved the route that follows Olmsted County Road 12, or White Bridge Road, through the area last year, then denied the township’s request to reconsider that decision.

The township board filed a petition with the appeals court in September.

“It’s been a long battle; it’s been an expensive battle; it’s been a lonely battle,” Oronoco Town Board Chairman Mark Thein said Thursday.

“Our route is the most populated route. It has the most potential for growth and (the CapX line) causes the most damage to property values.”

Thein said the township has spent “a couple hundred thousand dollars” fighting the project and the PUC’s approval of the White Bridge Road route. The PUC made that decision in spite of an administrative law judge’s recommendation for a route on the Wabasha County side of the line, across the Lake Zumbro Dam.

The court’s ruling is expected by June 20, and the court also will rule on a much smaller segment of the CapX line near Cannon Falls. Nine citizens and the St. Paul Lutheran Church and School hope to force CapX to shift the power lines around the west side of Cannon Falls.

The appeals court can affirm the PUC’s selection of the White Bridge Road route or send it back to the PUC for additional review.

The initial permit request from CapX included three options through the Zumbro River area, all of which Grant Stevenson, an Xcel Energy senior project manager, says CapX officials viewed as equally viable. The northern-most route has since been dropped from consideration because of lack of existing infrastructure.

“There was no clear-cut winner,” Stevenson said. “Sometimes when you’re comparing routes, it’s pretty obvious … but the data didn’t give us a clear-cut winner.”

Xcel Energy is one of 11 investor-owned, co-op and municipal utilities building the project, which will upgrade the power grid across Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota and South Dakota. Among the utilities are Rochester Public Utilities and other members of the Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency.

About 800 miles of power lines will be installed by 2017, including the 150-mile, roughly $500 million Hampton-Rochester-La Crosse project, which officials expect to be in service by 2015, no matter the outcome of the current legal action.

A shift to the Lake Zumbro Dam route would create the potential for another legal challenge. That possibility hasn’t been formally discussed by Wabasha County or nearby landowners, including Camp Victory and Woodland Camp, but they’re paying close attention.

“Our commissioners are very concerned about the adverse conditions that could impact the … rural character of our county,” said Michael Plante, assistant Wabasha County attorney. “I think there would be a lot of concern, but I think it’s premature to say whether there would be legal action taken.”


Will it be the dam or the bridge?

Posted: Friday, May 17, 2013 10:44 pm | Updated: 10:54 pm, Fri May 17, 2013.

Jay Furst, furst@postbulletin.com

The CapX2020 power line is already under construction in the Pine Island area, and by this fall, work will be completed on a 161-kilovolt line from Pine Island to Rochester.

In the Kellogg area, trees will be cleared this summer for the 345-kilovolt power line at that end. The CapX line will cross the Mississippi River just south of Kellogg and then turn south at Alma, Wis., to La Crosse.

But for Olmsted and Wabasha counties, the most important work now being done on the $2 billion project is occurring at the Minnesota Court of Appeals. The appellate judges are expected to rule within a month on the route that the power line will take across the Lake Zumbro area.

The plan, developed over six years and approved last year by the state Public Utilities Commission, is to have the line from Pine Island to Kellogg angle southeast at Oronoco and more or less follow the White Bridge Road (Olmsted County Road 12) corridor to just east of U.S. 63.

Oronoco Township is trying to block that. The township has spent what Town Board Chairman Mark Thein says is “a couple hundred thousand” dollars on legal fees to keep the power line out. That legal work included asking the PUC to reconsider the route last year. The PUC denied reconsideration of the plan, and the township took the extraordinary step of going to the appeals court.

If court rules for Oronoco Township, the PUC would have to reconsider. According to CapX officials, the main alternative route is the Lake Zumbro Dam crossing, which is in Wabasha County and opposed by people in that area.

To some extent, the dispute pits property owners at the south end of the lake, which is one of the top recreational areas in Southeast Minnesota, against those at the north end. It has trade-offs in terms of the visual and environmental effects on the area. It affects property values and development potential.

The map below shows the two alternatives. The magenta line, as the legend indicates, is the route that’s been approved by the PUC. The yellow line is the route that likely would be the alternative if the appeals court sends the matter back to the PUC for reconsideration.


And the sidebar:

CapX2020 timeline

Planning began in 2006 for the $2.2-billion CapX2020 project that will connect Minnesota, Wisconsin and North Dakota to an improved energy grid by 2015, with South Dakota being added by 2017.

The route of the 345-kilovolt line from the Pine Island area to the Mississippi River has been one of the most controversial aspects of the project. Oronoco Township in Olmsted County has asked the Minnesota Court of Appeals to block the approved route across the township and send it back to the Public Utilities Commission for reconsideration.

Key events in the siting of the CapX line in that area:


Jan. 19: Xcel Energy files application for the Hampton-Rochester-La Crosse Transmission Line Project, part of CapX2020.


June 14-16: Six public hearings held in Plainview, Pine Island and Cannon Falls.

June 20, 22 and 24: Administrative law judge in St. Paul hears evidence on route.

Aug. 31: Energy Facilities Permitting Unit of the Minnesota Department of Commerce files Final Environmental Impact Statement for the project.


Feb. 8: Administrative law judge recommends Lake Zumbro Dam route, in Wabasha County. According to the Minnesota PUC, “Xcel did not subsequently file exceptions to the ALJ’s recommendation to use the Zumbro Dam Crossing,” though it previously identified the White Bridge Road route as preferred.

April 12: PUC approves White Bridge Road route.

June: Oronoco Township petitions PUC for reconsideration.

August: PUC denies reconsideration.

September: Oronoco Township files appeal with Minnesota Court of Appeals.


March: Oral arguments heard at Court of Appeals.

June 20: Deadline for appeals court ruling.


Here are key arguments for the two routes, drawn from court documents and news stories.

The White Bridge Road route (approved by PUC)

The route comes closer to using an existing highway right-of-way, according to the PUC.

There are fewer residences within 300 feet of the route, according to CapX documents.

It requires fewer trees to be cleared than the Lake Zumbro Dam route, the PUC determined.

Some say there’s less recreational boating at the south end of the lake, which is more shallow and used by fewer boats.

It is ranked as “moderate” value in biodiversity, according to DNR. The Lake Zumbro Dam area is ranked as of “high” value and features rare species and a “Site of Biological Significance.”

The Lake Zumbro Dam route

The power line would cross the dam area, not the lake itself.

The route would have fewer effects on farm operations, residential developments and businesses, Oronoco Township says.

It’s only marginally different from the White Bridge Road route in terms of being a true “highway right-of-way corridor,” according to the township.

The effect on trees, biodiversity and natural resources can be mitigated by “micrositing,” according to Oronoco Township filing.

The number of archeological and historic sites affected by the route is comparable to the White Bridge Road route, the PUC says.

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image: detail of installation by Bronwyn Lace