PUC: Firms dealt with parasite along power line

Farm Forum

PIERRE — Day County landowner Gerald Pesall lost Tuesday before the state Public Utilities Commission in his attempt to stop two electricity companies from building a major transmission line.

Pesall raised questions about whether Montana-Dakota Utilities and Otter Tail Power properly addressed a roundworm parasite known as the soybean cyst nematode found in soil along parts of the proposed route.

The heavy-duty line would run between Ellendale, N.D., and Big Stone generation plant in Grant County near Milbank.

The companies conducted soil borings and had samples tested at South Dakota State University. The work found 24 percent of samples were infected to some degree.

The nematode issue is serious and the companies took it that way, attorney Tom Welk of Sioux Falls said on their behalf.

“Lots of money has been spent on this issue,” Welk told the commission. “This issue does not seem to be much of a concern to landowners except Mr. Pesall.”

Bob Pesall of Flandreau, the lawyer for Pesall, told the commission by telephone there are issues pending before the South Dakota Supreme Court regarding the matter.

Pesall’s lawyer said it isn’t clear where contaminated soil would be taken and what the receiving landowner would do with it.

“There isn’t an expert out there on behalf of the PUC watching the construction,” he said.

PUC attorney Karen Cremer noted the circuit judge took the PUC’s side. She said the topsoil issue is addressed in the mitigation plan approved one year ago by the PUC and the order granting the permit for the project doesn’t require third-party review of activities.

Cremer recommended the commission accept the companies’ filing that nematode issue s being addressed.

Welk said Pesall has denied the companies access to his property and is complaining about what’s happened on other people’s properties.

The company sent letters on test results to 268 landowners and nobody questioned the results or asked for more testing, Welk said.

Commissioner Gary Hanson said the company’s report should be accepted.

“If we were to revisit the mitigation plan today, I would make it less stringent,” Hanson said.

The company is nearly at the point where a car wash or tire removal would be immediately necessary when crews bring trucks and equipment back to the highways, according to Hanson.

He said the parasite’s eggs can survive for 10 years and a pregnant female with hundreds of eggs is the size of a dot. They can be carried by many means, from animals to the wind.

“We couldn’t build anything in this country if we placed these kind of restrictions on everyone going through South Dakota,” Hanson said.

He noted all of the utilities’ customers eventually have to pay for this.

Chairman Chris Nelson said the company “has really bent over backward” and it’s becoming increasingly clear that a single landowner is objecting.

“Based on his concern, the company has really gone out of the way,” Nelson said. He added that the companies must have spent additional money to satisfy the commission’s condition regarding the parasite.

“That’s commendable,” Nelson said.

The commissioners voted 3-0 to accept that the companies conducted the necessary sampling and prepared a mitigation plan that meets the construction-permit condition.

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