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Scope of power line hearings undecided
Delay likely as board considers impact on other areas
By Steve Kuchera, Duluth News-Tribune, 18 February 2000

Hearings scheduled to begin March 6 on Minnesota Power's plans to build 12 miles of 345-kilovolt transmission lines near and in Duluth may be delayed again.

After two and a half hours of discussion Thursday, the 15-member Minnesota Environmental Quality Board put off making a decision on whether to allow discussion of the line's potential effects beyond the state at the hearings. The MEQB's next regular meeting is scheduled for March 16, 10 days after hearings on Minnesota Power's request for an exemption from state regulations on power line siting and permits are to begin in Proctor. ``It seems to me that we are going to have to wait for a board decision'' before holding public hearings, Administrative Law Judge Phyllis A. Reha said Thursday afternoon. ``But I don't want to make a decision on that until I hear from all the parties.''

Reha is in charge of running the hearings. ``I'm going to schedule a pre-hearing conference with all the parties and listen to what they have to say and see whether it is necessary to suspend the hearing until the board acts,'' she said.

The hearings were originally scheduled to begin on Jan. 31, but Reha delayed them until March to give intervening parties more time to prepare. Minnesota Power's request has attracted a lot of attention and opposition, since it is the first step in a proposed 250-mile-long line from Duluth to Wausau, Wis. Opponents want the Minnesota hearings to include testimony about the potential impact of the Minnesota portion of the line on residents and the environment in Wisconsin and Canada.

Reha had earlier ruled against them, but decided to let them argue their case before the MEQB Thursday.

Some opponents of the line want the MEQB not to broaden the scope of the hearings, but to reject Minnesota Power's request for an exemption before there are hearings.

``There was some discussion of that, and some interest by board members but they weren't prepared to close the issue,'' MEQB senior planner Bob Cupit said after the meeting.

If the board decides to expand the scope of the hearings beyond Minnesota, Reha would likely have to reconsider her decision to deny some parties permission to act as interveners in the hearings.

On Jan. 20, Reha ruled that the Minnesota Department of Commerce, Clean Water Action Alliance, North American Water Office, Save Our Unique Lands, World Organization for Landowner Freedom, Lake Superior Greens and Dairyland Power Cooperative could be interveners.

She also granted the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin limited participation status. She denied intervener status to 12 other groups.