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Worthington Public Utilities planning new above-ground power lines

WORTHINGTON -- Worthington Public Utilities Manager Scott Hain appeared before the Nobles County Planning Commission Wednesday night for the first of several hearings regarding plans to add a new 115,000-volt, above-ground electric transmission line to connect two substations in Worthington.

The project will also include upgrading an existing transmission line from 69,000 volts to 150,000 volts.

Ordinarily, a request for upgrades and expansions of transmission lines would go before the state. Because this project is a short route and less than 200,000 volts, however, it can be permitted through the county. This will be the first project in which the two entities will work together.

The new line would extend approximately 2.7 miles, most of which will follow along the north side of Interstate 90, then cross over to the east of Castlewood Drive to reach the substation just south of Armour Road. The upgraded line will follow the right-of-way along Paul Avenue, between sections 14 and 15 of Worthington Township, before being routed through the Nobles County Fairground property to the substation on Frederick Avenue.

Hain said the project has been under consideration by the WPU for a long time.

"If we lose a feed from a substation, it gives us an alternate feed," he said. "It will improve system reliability."

The transmission lines will be carried on either wood or steel poles, depending on bids received, with a total of four wires -- three phase wires and a shield wire on top for lightning protection and communication purposes. Typical pole height will be 70 to 75 feet high, of which 61 to 66 feet will be above ground. Poles carrying the lines over Interstate 90 will be taller, said Hain.

Hain addressed the issue of above-ground power lines during the meeting, saying that while city electrical lines have been "100 percent underground for a long time," doing so with the transmission lines isn't economically feasible.

"It's a $2.5 million project to build above ground, and about $7 million to build below ground -- and you have the same functionality," said Hain.

Wednesday's information was presented as part of the first public hearing on the project. Once the environmental study is completed, the information will be brought back to the planning commission for review. Nobles County Environmental Services director Wayne Smith said at that time, the commission can place conditions on the project, if necessary, before the information is forwarded to the Nobles County Board of Commissioners. The public will have one final opportunity to comment after the project review has been published in a statewide Environmental Quality Board newsletter. In all, half a dozen hearings will need to be conducted before construction can begin. The project is slated to be completed by the spring of 2012.

Troy Metzger, of DGR in Rock Rapids, Iowa, is the consulting engineer for WPU on the project. Metzger said he has already collected comments from the Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Minnesota Department of Transportation. At the same time, the county sent 94 surveys to landowners and businesses located in proximity to the proposed transmission lines.

Smith said 14 surveys returned, including about 10 that had no comment opposed to the project.

One letter was received from Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership, concerned about the route of the new transmission line proposed east of Castlewood Drive. SWMHP is spearheading a housing development in that neighborhood that will include 30 rental units and some single family lots. The agency was concerned about safety with the overhead power lines, and also the visual detractor they will create for the neighborhood.

Other public comment taken during the hearing was from Galen Gordon, who farms on land where the existing transmission line will be moved.

"There's five poles that I farm around," Gordon said. "The equipment that we use today is huge, and it wouldn't take a lot to knock one of those down. For safety, it makes a lot of sense to move (the line) along the (right-of-way)."

In other action, the commission:

* Approved a request from Brian Gengler, Adrian, to construct a 120-foot diameter, open concrete manure storage facility in the northwest quarter of Section 33, Larkin Township.

Gengler operates a 120-cow dairy and was recently awarded 75 percent cost-share funds from the Minnesota Clean Water Partnership to install the nearly 1-million-gallon capacity pit. The project will allow the Genglers to store up to one year's worth of manure before emptying the 12-foot-deep pit and incorporating the waste on land they farm.

A feedlot run-off catch basin will also be constructed, with the project anticipated to be completed yet this year. The pit will be fenced in for safety reasons.

The project plans met the setback requirements and all regulations as set forth by the county, and the only condition placed on it is that Gengler adhere to the good neighbor policy.

The commission's recommendation will go before the Nobles County board shortly after 9 a.m. Tuesday.

* Received an update from Dennis Bucholz of Worthington Ag Parts on the company's plans as the Minnesota 60 expansion continues. Work is expected to begin again on the highway the week of May 9, and Worthington Ag Parts is in the process of organizing temporary signage to get to the facility. Customer access from the site will be from the north and east, Bucholz said.

Over the course of the next several months, Bucholz said details will be ironed out for a sight fence along the frontage, and work on plans for a potential cul-de-sac for trucks to turn around on their property. A security fence is also being considered since the frontage road leading to Worthington Ag Parts will dead-end at the property line.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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