Power line sparks worries

SHERBURN – A proposed 345-kV electric transmission line route has the city of Sherburn concerned about the town’s well-being and livelihood.

Last year, when ITC Midwest announced plans to run a transmission line from Lakefield to Winnebago, several proposed routes through Martin County were discussed. While most ran the transmission line north of Interstate 90, the current top proposal takes it south of Interstate 90 at Sherburn near the Kum & Go station and east for nearly four miles before crossing back over to the northern side of the Interstate. This puts several Sherburn properties – including homes, businesses, a church and the Martin County West high school – within the range of magnetic field of the transmission line.

“If the line is required to be 100 feet away from the interstate, that would put it about 80 feet away from our steel building,” said Jon Schafer of the Sherburn Assembly of God Regional Worship Center. “This route would likely render our P.A. system useless and rob us of about a third of our property, and would devalue our remaining property by several hundred thousand dollars.”

Along with seeing lower property values, citizens are concerned about the health aspects of a high-voltage line running nearby.

“If there’s 345,000 volts less than 100 feet from our building, there are an unlimited number of resources that would say that’s unsafe, but so far no one is telling [ITC] ‘no,'” Schafer said. “It’s insane to bring it that close, but the earlier maps they had didn’t even identify us as a church.”

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources recent purchase of the Center Creek Wildlife Management Area is playing a role in the line being pushed to the south. In the state Department of Commerce environmental impact statement, it is stated that the DNR indicated it probably would not license a crossing of the wildlife area for the transmission lines because of federal funding for the wildlife management project.

“They list all these state environmental departments they are working with, but not the Minnesota Department of Health,” said Sherburn resident Helen Murphy. “What does that say; that animals and wildlife are protected, but humans aren’t?”

Officials from Sherburn and Martin County West school district have sent letters of concern and objection to Minnesota’s Department of Commerce, Minnesota Public Utilities Commission and the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office.

“The proposed voltage of 345 kV, in addition to the current 161 kV, results in 506 kV of electricity flowing too close to comfort for the health and safety of my students and staff,” wrote Martin County West Superintendent Allison Schmidt. “Two-thirds of the students in the Martin County West school district attend school at these sites. With several scientific studies showing an increase in childhood leukemia rates due to proximity to high-voltage power lines, I would hope you realize the necessity of keeping the proposed line away from our students and schools.”

The negative financial impact the lines would have also was addressed. Local businessman Joel Rabbe, who owns property in the proposed transmission line area, has stated he would not expand his business into Sherburn if the line comes through the town.

“When businesses choose not to develop in Sherburn, this has an undesirable effect on the tax base, which affects the property tax base upon which the school district revenue is calculated,” Schmidt wrote. “The proposed line change will negatively impact the revenue we are able to generate to allow us to continue our strong programs for students.”

The concerns regarding property owners were echoed by Sherburn Mayor Dorothy Behne.

“Sherburn would undoubtedly be faced with devaluation of properties near the power lines being placed if ITC Midwest chooses to go south of the Interstate. The homeowners there would have a harder time selling their home and an even more difficult time getting a fair value on their property,” Behne wrote.

For now, several Sherburn officials and residents hope to attend a Minnesota Public Utilities hearing on Wednesday in St. Paul.

Meanwhile, public hearings specifically for the Jackson-Martin-Faribault transmission line project are scheduled for the week of April 7, with ITC not scheduled to make a final decision on its line route until September.

Tom Petersen, director of communications at ITC, said the specific issues brought up for ITC’s proposal will be addressed at the public hearings in the spring.

“The more there are of us, the more input we will have,” said Derald Harris of Sherburn, who is a homeowner in the proposed area.

“We need to unite as a city, the community, school district, the churches,” Murphy added. “To the state officials, we’re just a dot on the map, but this is our life.”

“We’re not in opposition to more power lines; we know that the grid needs to be improved,” Schafer said. “But just not so close that we can’t use our church or our home. We kind of feel the steamroller has already started.”

Public comments can be submitted to the state until Jan. 31 to:

The Honorable Ann O’Reilley, Office of Administrative Hearings, Box 6420, St. Paul, MN 55164-0620. Fax: (651) 361-7936. Email: RouteComments.OAH@state.mn.us

Include PUC Docket Number (E99/M-13-965) and OAH docket number (6502500-3178) in all communications.