Board approves public hearings on power line
Decision is a step forward for project, but will limit testimony on impact
of proposed Duluth-Wausau line
By Martiga Lohn and Steve Kuchera, Duluth News-Tribune staff writers, 21
ST. PAUL -- The Minnesota Environmental Quality Board voted unanimously
Thursday to go ahead with public hearings on a high-voltage transmission
line proposed to begin in Hermantown -- but will limit testimony to the
line's possible environmental and public health effects in Minnesota.
The decision clears the way for public hearings to be held this summer. The
hearings, which were to begin in March, have been on hold while the board
considered a request by project opponents to allow testimony on potential
impacts beyond Minnesota.
Minnesota Power has requested an exemption from certain state requirements
for route designation and construction permits for 12 miles of proposed
transmission line. The 345-kilovolt line would follow an existing
115-kilovolt line from the Arrowhead substation in Hermantown to the St.
Louis River near Gary-New Duluth.
The company's request has attracted a lot of attention, since it would be
the first step in a 250-mile line from Duluth to Wausau, Wis.
With limited testimony Thursday, the 15-member Environmental Quality Board
spent almost two hours discussing how much latitude to allow at public
hearings on Minnesota Power's exemption request.
Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Commissioner Karen Studders said the
purpose of a public hearing is to gather information before making a
decision. Pollution issues -- such as increased mercury depositions caused
by power lines -- don't follow state borders, she added.
``Some people want to minimize that this is only a 12-mile line,'' Studders
said. ``The whole policy behind the Power Plant Siting Act is to allow all
persons to have a dialogue. All we're doing is deciding who can take part in
that dialogue.... We need to allow information in so we can make a
well-informed, good decision for the state of Minnesota.''
But Sen. Bob Lessard, DFL-International Falls, testified for limited public
Lessard said he became aware of the proposed transmission line after several
people lobbied him against it at an awards banquet where he was being
honored in February.
``I would hope that this group would just use plain and common horse
sense,'' Lessard said. ``If we're going to have to require (Environmental
Impact Statements) on 12 miles of line,... we're going to be wasting a lot
of time on insignificant things.''
Lessard also said he heard conflicting information on whether Indian nations
in Canada oppose the proposed line.
Electricity for the line could come in part from hydroelectric plants in
Manitoba. The Cross Lake Cree Nation, who say their way of life has been
destroyed by dams, are opposed to the line as well as plans to expand the
province's hydroelectric generation.
But Douglas Mackenzie, a lawyer representing the Split Lake Cree First
Nation in Manitoba, said that nation doesn't want public testimony on
impacts outside Minnesota, but asked to be given official status if
testimony were expanded. The board didn't address his request.
Several board members said they wanted to avoid an ``unruly'' public hearing
``This could be quite an expedition if we just open up the entire system
back to its sources,'' said Transportation Commissioner Elwyn Tinklenberg.
``This review should be limited to impacts in Minnesota. Anything beyond
that gets us into all kinds of other issues.... For me that would seem
intrusive and patronizing.''
Acting Commerce Commissioner Jim Bernstein recused himself from voting,
saying that he had been involved in discussions about the power line as
deputy public service commissioner.
Under the resolution passed by the Environmental Quality Board, public
testimony can address how the power line inside and outside Minnesota would
affect Minnesotans. But testifiers must show that the impact comes from the
power line and not some other source.
Power line opponents hoped that the board would reject Minnesota Power's
exemption request or allow testimony on the power line's effect on people
and the environment in Wisconsin and Canada. Still, opponents hailed the
board's decision as favorable.
``We're in a better position now to put on the record the true impact of the
project,'' said George Crocker, executive director of the North American
Water Office, who argued in February for expanded public testimony. ``We're
better able to raise the issues that need to be raised.''
``Pollution doesn't stop at the borders,'' said Pam McGillivray, an attorney
representing Save Our Unique Lands. ``We'll still be able to show the same
impacts of the entire line on Minnesota.''
Minnesota Power was also happy with the board's decision.
``We're pleased with the EQB decision, and we look forward to continuing
with the process,'' Minnesota Power Vice President of Corporate Relations
Jim Roberts said.
The judge in charge of running the hearings will likely soon hold a
pre-hearing conference with the groups that will be allowed to testify at
the hearings, MEQB senior planner Bob Cupit said after the meeting.
``I think she's prepared to move fairly quickly on this,'' he said. ``We're
happy to have a decision. We're ready to move forward.''
Cupit doesn't expect the hearings could begin until after June 1.
Several dozen citizens, mostly from Wisconsin, attended the Environmental
Quality Board meeting Thursday. Under the decision, they won't be able to
testify about the transmission line in Minnesota.
``It will change the way my farm operates,'' said Linda Ceylor, a dairy
farmer and SOUL member who lives in Catawba, Wis., along the proposed power
line. ``The more I read about it, the more I realize it's not a benefit to
In Wisconsin, the state's Public Service Commission is working on a draft
environmental impact statement on the proposed line. The statement should be
finished later this spring.