TOWN OF MORGAN - Nobody wants high voltage power lines overshadowing their property, but they're coming for residents from Green Bay to Iron Mountain. And if you don't think your community is fighting hard enough to send those lines someplace else, it might just be because those same communities are getting something in the deal.
Dave Behrend moved to the small rural town of Morgan in Oconto County a year ago for a little peace and quiet. But plans, since his arrival, for high voltage power lines moving in has him speaking out.
"I'm the noise maker right now. A lot of people will like it. Many are going to hate it," said Behrend.
Behrend is not happy with a plan by the American Transmission Company to put up huge towers and string some of the largest high voltage power lines from Green Bay to Michigan, passing right through the town of Morgan.
"The highway stays in its path, the railroad in its path, the airport in its path, but the power lines, they don't have to. They can go as they wish," explained a frustrated Behrend.
Behrend purchased his home on 6-acres just a year ago trying to avoid the drawbacks that come with a more metropolitan community, like pollution, noise and yes high voltage power lines.
"I just wanted to get away from it so I moved out here," said Behrend.
Morgan Town Chairman Fran Wranosky understands the concerns of Behrend and others over property values, aesthetics, and the dangers of stray voltage.
"He just bought the property and he's kind of up in arms," Wranosky said of Behrend. "He's told there might be a pole right in back of his house here. And he's up in arms."
Wranosky agrees with Behrend that the addition of power lines could devalue his property.
We questioned Wranosky on what he could do help.
FOX 11 On Special Assignment reporter Mark Leland asked Wranosky the following question, "What kind of impact do you as town chairman and the town board have in directing where this is going to go?"
"Nothing,” he replied.
"Nothing? You can't do anything?” asked FOX 11’s Mark Leland.
"Nothing really, no. You can give your opinion. We have no control over that, not any more than the resident right across the street,” said Wranosky.
"You can't rally the troops and tell them we don't want it here, put it over there?" FOX 11 asked.
"I could. We could, but maybe you want it in your backyard because you're going to get a pole setting that you're going to get 'x' dollars out of something like that,” Wranosky replied.
Speaking of 'x' dollars, money is at the root of all of this. ATC makes money. The electric companies make money. And any property owner where the power line polls are placed or the wires cross over are paid too for the inconvenience.
Once a route is approved by the state, ATC by law is allowed to ease onto your property as long as it pays fair market value for use of the land. But money is also paid to each community and county that hosts a 345-kilovolt high voltage line. And Behrend says that payoff is on the level of a bribe, so the power line company gets what it wants.
"It's kind of hush-hush money and it's one way to say, 'Hey look we're keeping your taxes down.' Ya, but look what you have to pay for it," said Behrend.
"I've heard from some residents that are not happy with it,” asked FOX 11’s Mark Leland.
"There is,” Wranosky said.
"And that's why we came up here,” said FOX 11’s Mark Leland.
"That's exactly right,” said Wranosky.
"And their feeling is maybe the town board isn't doing enough because they're getting the money from them. It's sort of a bribe,” said Leland.
"Ah no. It's not a bribe,” stated Wranosky.
Wranosky tells us when the last high voltage line came through from the west in 2009 the town received a lump sum payment of roughly $205,000 from the transmission line company. And it also has been receiving $24,000 in annual payments that will continue for the 40-year-life of the line. The compensation is actually required by a law the legislature passed in 1999, and calculated based on the cost of the project. The town of Morgan also receives lesser amounts of utility-shared revenue because it has a substation on the north side of town.
Wranosky acknowledged the compensation the community receives does make it easier to accept the power lines and its polls, by helping to keep taxes down for all--even those not directly impacted.
"Somewhat. I would say yes, because we are giving it back to the community. Yes it probably does. Ah, but yet we're moving on in society," said Wranosky.
The money the town received so far has gone to build a new recycling center at a cost of $110,000. Another $20,000 was spent on a veteran’s memorial. The rest of the funds are in an account to build a new town hall that Wranosky says will get the green light if and when the new $400 million power line project, and the money that goes along with it, are approved.
"They take their money, they spend it. Now they agreed to their terms they have no arguing rights whatsoever. They can run that pole right through their backyard if they wish," said Behrend.
We brought up Behrend's concerns with Jackie Olson, a spokeswoman for American Transmission Company.
Olson admits ATC routinely runs into residents not wanting power lines coming into their neighborhood.
"It's an informational and education process. Most people when they do understand the need for electricity, reliable electricity, understand that these facilities have to go somewhere," said Olson.
"Right about where those reddish-orange trees are is where they want to put a pole," Behrend said pointing to property he had been interested in buying directly behind his home.
Behrend doesn't plan to give up without a fight. He attended ATC open houses this past fall raising his concerns. And he says he'll speak out at all public hearings in the future to make sure his neighbors now understand what's at stake.
"I think they don't understand the full picture and I don't think it was fully explained to the residents of the area," said Behrend.
The final decision on what happens with the proposed high voltage lines from the Green Bay area to Iron Mountain, running through the Town of Morgan, will be made in Madison by the Public Service Commission. That's the group that will decide what's needed and ultimately choose the exact route.
ATC has pushed back its planning schedule and now hopes to submit a formal application to the Public Service Commission by January of 2014. The PSC then has a year to hold public hearings and make a final decision on the application.
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