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Pole replacement project by Xcel set to begin; public can respond

The Wisconsin Public Service Commission is asking people to respond on its finding that an extensive pole replacement project through Pierce and other counties will have no significant environmental affects.

Xcel Energy has proposed replacing 125 wooden highline poles between the St. Croix River and an Eau Claire-area substation with steel poles - up to 20 feet taller in some cases - in a project expected to cost $10.9 million.

The PSC characterizes the line - which roughly parallels County Road M, crosses Hwy. 29 south of River Falls, Hwy. 65 near the River Falls Town Hall and heads east south of Hwy. 29 east - as a "key resource for bulk transmission system reliability and large west-east transfers of power."

Xcel spokeswoman Pam Rasmussen said the line is the largest and "most important one coming into Wisconsin from the west."

The work could begin in October. It would involve about 45 landowners in the towns of Clifton, River Falls, Martell, Gilman and Spring Lake in Pierce County, according to documents filed with the PSC.

The project may take a year to complete, depending on availability of the specialized crews needed to work on the energized lines, said Rasmussen.

Xcel first applied for approval of the "maintenance project" on Jan. 5. The work will replace certain transmission poles along the single-circuit 345 kilovolt line that stretches from Xcel's King substation near Bayport to the Eau Claire substation.

The bulk of the work will occur in Pierce, Dunn and Eau Claire counties.

Preliminary study by the PSC's Gas & Energy Division indicates that Xcel probably won't need to do a full environmental impact statement because "no significant environmental impacts on the human environment are likely to occur as a result of constructing and operating this project," wrote PSC analyst Kathleen Zuelsdorff.

Comments on the project have already been solicited in a notification letter mailed to all Wisconsin residents along the work route. Just three comments were received, said Zuelsdorff. The invitation for public comment on the project was received by the Journal on Monday, Aug. 29.

The wood "K-frame" structures would be replaced with steel "H-frame" structures, to be erected on new concrete footings within the existing right-of-way and within about 10 feet of existing poles. Most of the work would be performed with the line still energized.

Xcel's contractor would need to access each new pole site with up to six rubber-tired vehicles including pickups, a drill rig, crane, concrete truck, boom and bucket trucks, documents state.

The reconstruction route includes crossings of several streams - including the Kinnickinnic and Rush rivers - classified as cold water fisheries. Temporary clear-span bridges would be used to cross them, the report states.

Seven wetlands would also be affected by the project. DNR permits for the stream crossings would be required. About 100 temporary easements will also be needed from private landowners.

Zuelsdorff wrote that the new steel structures would be 15-20 feet taller than the current 65-100-foot wooden poles, "resulting in the ability to see the line from a greater distance. This change is expected to be relatively minor."

Many of the existing poles were installed in 1965. Some have structural problems or are leaning excessively, according to the PSC statement.

"The structural problems are a reliability risk that could result in a chain of failures that could result in significant outages in Wisconsin," Zuelsdorff wrote.

Among Pierce County landowners listed as having poles on their property needing replacement are: Bruce Lenzen, Nancy Clausen, Calvin Jennings, Dwayne Burmood, Vernon Kusilek, Roger Peterson, Steven Anderson, Gene Morrow, Art Dolan, John Turcheneske, Perri Schiltgen, Geraldine Nelson, Robert Green, Bernice Anderson, John Perry, Herb Bennett III, Patrick Spencer, George Farley, Gordon Baumgartner, Valerie Nelson, Tim Wiff, Dale Lamminen, Tim Nolen, Craig Lindeke, Rosemary Meier, Brad Turner, Robert Emerson, Christine Hartwig, Frank Neidermyer, Elmer Everson, Russell Spence, Anthony Smith, Nick Dangeur, Raymond Timm, Peter Esanbock, Dennis Gilbertson, Bob Link, William Lawler, Olaf Nyeggen, Greg Wells and Aaron Hinzman.

Comments on the proposed project can be made to Kathleen Zuelsdorff, Public Service Commission of Wisconsin, P.O. Box 7854, Madison, WI 53707-7854; by phone at 608-266-2730; or via e-mail to Comments must be received by Friday, Sept. 9.