Concern voiced on proposed transmission line

Farm Forum

A number of South Dakota residents and farmers are far from convinced that a proposed transmission line through the heart of the state is a good idea.

With close to 70 in attendance, nearly a dozen people sounded off Tuesday night during a public hearing before the state Public Utilities Commission at the Aberdeen Ramada convention center over an approximately 170-mile transmission line that would stretch from near Ellendale, N.D., to the Big Stone power plant’s south substation in Grant County.

If approved, the joint venture — which would mostly be erected in South Dakota — between Montana-Dakota Utilities and Otter Tail Power would could cost as much as $370 million, said project developer Henry Ford at Tuesday’s hearing, but landowners and others on Tuesday appeared to have more questions than answers.

“It’s my understanding that there really is no benefit from this project for the agricultural community in South Dakota,” said Webster resident Paul Dulitz. “I live on a dead end road and I’m concerned about safety if this line comes down on my road.”

Dulitz was only one of a steady string of speakers who had questions ranging from easement payout amounts and possible land devaluation to the possibility of farm equipment GPS interference from the proposed 345-kilovolt line. The meeting was the latest in a series of forums about the transmission line as the two utility companies attempt to gain the necessary project permit from the PUC.

The hearing highlighted five proposed route changes along the line’s path as the project’s developers continue to haggle with landowners along the line, which would cut through parts of Brown, Day and Grant counties in South Dakota. Ford said Montana-Dakota and Otter Tail officials hope to begin construction by the summer of 2016 with a penciled-in completion date sometime in late 2019.

“We intend to oppose the issuance of the permit,” said Flandreau attorney Bob Pesall, who was representing Lily-area farmer Gerald Pesall. “We don’t see the necessity, we see a lot more damage that the project is likely to produce. It’s ugly, we think it will hurt the local economy and we think it will interfere with farming and local economic development. It will also put the public at a risk for injury — people are going to get hurt.”

A number of attendees raised questions about easement payouts, which Ford said would be calculated using a formula that would payout at 80 percent of land valuation for a pole in the ground and about half that much for land beneath “overhanging” power lines.

Columbia area farmer Chris Roettele said the owner of land he farms wasn’t aware that payouts for land affected by such overhangs were half as much as the regular easement payouts.

“I’d like to know why that wasn’t brought up at any other public meeting,” Roettele said. “My landowner was lied to. A lot of people haven’t been informed about a lot of these details and that disturbs me. I’d like for the PUC to think about some of these issues before any decisions are made.”

Randy Schuring and Bradley Morehouse, both of the Andover area, wondered why the proposed line couldn’t be moved away their respective farm and feedlot so it wouldn’t interfere with their operations. Ford said the building of the project would be a boon for local economies and tax rolls in the three-county area. As it stands, the closest the line would come to Aberdeen would be through a chunk of Brown County in Bath Township.

Next up during the process is an evidentiary hearing scheduled to last for three days and beginning at 1 p.m. June 10 in Pierre.

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