June 22, 2009 12:03 PM
Recently, the State Public Service Commission announced that it would approve a big new power line on the Beltline. The City Council and I thought that was a bad idea. At our request, the City Attorney's Office fought that outcome before the PSC as hard as they could on our behalf.
The City argued that the American Transmission Company, the entity that will build the line, hadn't made a sufficient case that the line was needed, especially given reduced energy demand projections. After all, the line was first proposed years ago before the current deep recession. We also argued that the Beltline was an especially bad location given its impacts on Madison residential neighborhoods and businesses, the Arboretum and the Odana golf course. We said that if it had to be built there it should be placed underground.
The PSC rejected all those arguments, though they did provide for some lower poles and other mitigation at the Arboretum and Odana.
What was most disappointing in the PSC's decision were some of the comments by the commissioners. They said things to the effect that the Beltline was not an aesthetically pleasing place to begin with and that the line was better placed there then along the alternative route in rural southern Dane County. However, our concern was not so much about the impact of the power line from the roadway itself, but the visual impact on the Arboretum, the golf course, major new commercial buildings like the wonderful Arbor Gate complex, and residential neighborhoods that can't now see the Beltline but will certainly be in sight of the power line. What we are concerned about is not so much the view of the power line from the Beltline but the view of it from the neighborhoods, businesses and other places along the Beltline.
Meanwhile, the commissioners went on about the need to preserve views of farmland. But in their effort to preserve some of those rural views they may end up destroying them in a far more profound way. By placing huge and expensive power line poles next to the Beltline the PSC has made it much more expensive to expand the Beltline should that ever become necessary. And there are those who are already pushing for a new South Beltline that would be constructed very near where that otherwise quiet power line would have gone. A power line certainly would have had some visual impacts on farmland, but those impacts are nothing compared to what a new six lane highway would cause.