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Landowners riled up by northern power line

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News Grand Forks,North Dakota 58203 http://www.grandforksherald.com/sites/default/files/styles/square_300/public/field/image/GNTL%20alternate%20routes.map_.4.16%20copy.jpg?itok=S7zn13Ux
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Landowners riled up by northern power line
Grand Forks North Dakota 375 2nd Ave. N. 58203

The first of eight public meetings regarding the routing of a proposed 220-mile power line has left Stuart Rice and other farmers and landowners in northern Minnesota irritated and asking more questions.

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Moving into the last leg of the planning process, Minnesota Power is hoping the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission will approve the proposed route for its Great Northern Transmission Line that would run from the northwest corner of the state near Roseau to Hermantown. The line would carry power generated by hydroelectric plants in Manitoba.

Wednesday’s meeting in Roseau, which drew a crowd of about 45, and others like it will allow the commission to gather public input about two proposed routes. The input will be taken into consideration when an environmental impact survey is released later this year, which ultimately determines which route Minnesota Power will have to pursue when it constructs the transmission line in 2017.

“It was helpful, but it appears they only say so much and it’s hard to get real answers,” said Rice, who attended the meeting.

As it stands now, the proposed route would force Rice to sell 48 acres of farmland — farmland that has been in his family for four generations.

“There are lots of issues they don’t really think about,” he said. “I won’t be able to do any aerial application — to fly around (the 150-foot poles); they just aren’t going to do it.”

Uncertainty

While no specific design for the transmission line has been selected, the 750-megawatt line is expected to be fully operational by 2020 with a lifespan of nearly 120 years.

A 3,000-foot corridor will mark out where the line will run from Canada into the Iron Range, but the actual line can be constructed anywhere within the corridor, which has landowner Darin Heller concerned.

“I don’t know where it will actually go compared to where they say it would go along the road,” he said. “My concern is they will use that discretion to put it in the easiest route for them, not the least intrusive.”

Heller said about 90 percent of his property in Dieter Township falls within the corridor.

Despite his concerns, Minnesota Power said it has proposed the least intrusive route options based on more than 75 stakeholder meetings it has organized throughout the last two years.

“We want to make sure we are siting this line with the least possible disruption to people and the environment,” said Amy Rutledge, a spokeswoman for Minnesota Power. “It’s a very thoughtful, lengthy process.”

Airport impact

One of the latest concerns to arise is the line’s proximity to the Piney-Pinecreek Border Airport located along the U.S.-Canada border in Dieter Township.

The proposed power line would fall within the right-of-way for a planned 1,500-foot expansion to the north-south runway, and also hinder plans for a crosswind landing strip heading east-west. The Minnesota Department of Transportation, which owns the airport, is not currently working on the project but has it on file for the future.

Marlin Elton, chairman of the Piney-Pinecreek Airport Commission, is pressuring Minnesota Power and Manitoba Hydro to shift the entire power line route farther east to avoid the aviation complications.

“When you’re dealing with organizations like this they are standing to make lots of money, but they are losing sight of what they are trampling over,” Elton said.

 He said he is initiating conversation with the Federal Aviation Administration to see what more can be done to push for the route to be moved east toward Department of Natural Resources land — an area Elton, Heller and Rice said would be less intrusive because it is state land.

Like Rice, Elton would also have to forfeit about 48 acres of farmland he uses to grow certified seed grass to make way for the proposed transmission line.

“We’ve spent a lot of time and money to maintain certification status and this is a step backwards,” he said. “Once (Minnesota Power) is approved by the environmentalists, eminent domain kicks in and that’s a whole different ball game.”

If you go

The U.S. Department of Energy is holding more public input meetings on the Great Northern Transmission Line at the following times:

  • Wednesday: 11 a.m. at Kelliher (Minn.) Public School, 345 Fourth St. N.W., and 6 p.m. at Bigfork (Minn.) School, 100 Huskie Boulevard.
  • Thursday: 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. at the Sawmill Inn, S. U.S. Highway 169, Grand Rapids, Minn.

More info: 1.usa.gov/1mX00NR.

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