Big Stone electrical decision delayed

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Farm Forum

PIERRE — Unsure about some of the evidence, the state Public Utilities Commission delayed final action on Aug. 6 on the permit for two companies to construct a high-voltage electricity transmission line across northeastern South Dakota.

Montana-Dakota Utilities and Otter Tail Power want the line to connect new substations near the Big Stone power plant in Grant County and near Ellendale, N.D.

Commission chairman Gary Hanson said he wants more time to review the evidence and the possible conditions that could be placed on the permit.

“I’m just not 100 percent there ready to support this,” Hanson said.

The commission faces a deadline of Aug. 22 to issue an order, according to PUC legal counsel John Smith.

“It’s some work to write up one of these orders,” Smith said.

Opponents testify

The matter took another twist on Aug. 6 when the commission allowed several citizens who are opponents to make comments.

“We’re talking to people who aren’t parties to the case,” Smith advised the commission.

One of the opponents who commented on Aug. 6 was Lyle Podoll of Westport. Podoll said he and other landowners didn’t know whom to believe about whether another route was still in consideration.

Lloyd Buntrock, of Columbia, said the line would be about one-quarter of a mile from his property. He likewise said landowners received inconsistent answers to their questions.

“Not any of us in South Dakota are going to get any electricity from this,” Buntrock said. “They’ve admitted that.”

Tom Welk objected that the comments aren’t part of the evidentiary record. He is a private attorney representing the two companies who want to build the line.

“This submission is not under oath,” Welk said. “The project doesn’t have any problem listening to the comments. But the record is closed.”

Company officials said they are looking at another option, but didn’t disclose it.

Bud Dennert, of Westport, said “somebody needs to say something” because the line is scheduled to run on his property within 60 rods of his buildings.

A rod is a length measurement of approximately 16.5 feet.

Dennert said there are two houses that are probably within 20 rods of the line’s route and other houses are within 40 to 60 rods of it.

Bob Pesall, a lawyer representing his brother Gerald Pesall who farms in Lily, said no one testified on behalf of the project that the line would benefit farming.

He noted that three farmers testified they would have problems.

Pesall said the commission shouldn’t grant a permit on the condition that the project’s final design would be submitted later.

That approach seemed to be under consideration by commissioner Chris Nelson and the companies.

Fiegen said the commission couldn’t consider the information presented on Aug. 6 by several of the farmers because it wasn’t legally allowed.

“I so wish you were a party to the case,” she said.

Nelson said his only remaining hesitation was that he doesn’t believe “we’ve been able to drill to the bottom of the truth” regarding landowners’ positions on a possible alternate route.

Timeline

The companies filed their permit application on Aug. 23, 2013, for state approval for the segment through the South Dakota counties of Grant, Day and Brown. The PUC held public hearings in Aberdeen and Milbank on Oct. 17. Pesall filed to become an official party on Oct. 18.

Five more sets of landowners on April 14 filed to be parties. The PUC added a public input meeting in Aberdeen on May 20. Lawyers for the PUC and the companies submitted a proposed settlement on June 6. The evidentiary hearing in the case was held June 10-11.

On Aug. 3, Podoll sent a four-page single-spaced email to the PUC seeking a change in route and listing specific landowners by name and location.

One of the commission’s attorneys wrote back to Podoll that he could join the Aug. 6 meeting by telephone or attend.

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