Academic Staff Assembly Document #399
12 May 2008
RESOLUTION IN SUPPORT OF BURYING THE PROPOSED
345 kV ROCKDALE TO MIDDLETON TRANSMISSION LINE
The American Transmission Company (ATC) has proposed a 345,000 volt (345kV) transmission line from Rockdale to Middleton. If the transmission line is routed overhead along the Beltline, it will result in significant negative impacts to the UW-Arboretum. Burying the transmission line underground would eliminate this possibility. The Biological Sciences Strategic Planning Committee asks that the Faculty Senate endorse burying the transmission line and communicate its recommendation to the Public Service Commission.
The UW-Arboretum is an internationally recognized research and teaching facility, unique in the nation, and a source of community pride. Moreover, the Arboretum is home to a wide range of animal and plant species, six of which appear on the Wisconsin Endangered and Threatened Species List. Particularly noteworthy are the numerous species of birds, ranging from small finches and songbirds to the magnificent Sandhill crane with its 80 inch wingspan, that live in the Arboretum year round or temporarily during seasonal migrations.
For many citizens of Dane County and beyond, the UW-Arboretum is a place of solitude that offers the opportunity to leave the aural and visual squalor of modern society behind, and to nourish the soul. The Arboretum, however, is a fragile place, under constant challenge from human traffic, pollution, and the artifacts of contemporary society. In the winter when the trees are without leaves, the constant drone of vehicles on the Beltline robs the Arboretum of silence. At night, bright lights from the city soil the darkness. As more vehicles travel the Beltline and more development takes place, the noise and visual pollution will increase, but it will still be possible for most to journey to the center of the Arboretum, gaze in any direction, and believe that it is a place of wildness.
But this will end if ATC is permitted by the Public Service Commission (PSC) to build an overhead 345 kV transmission line along the Beltline. The line will be supported by 130-foot high towers that will dwarf in height all other natural and manmade structures along the Beltline and will be visible above the tree line from open vantage points throughout the Arboretum. The illusion of wildness will be destroyed forever by the sheer ugliness of the towers, and with the illusion’s demise, the opportunity that the Arboretum has provided to generations of citizens to “get away” from the trappings of modern life and connect with more enduring values will end.
Some might argue that aesthetic considerations and the values afforded by nature are of minor consequence in a modern commercialized society. Reasonable people can disagree with this point of view. By contrast, most reasonable people will agree that erecting a very tall, high voltage transmission line that will present a clear and present danger to the birds, bats and other species that live in the Arboretum should not be tolerated.
In 2005, the American Transmission Company proposed constructing a 345 kV transmission line from the Rockdale substation in the Town of Christiana through Madison to the West Middleton substation in the Town of Middleton. Two routes for the transmission line now have been proposed; a southern route that runs through several villages, towns and cities, and a northern route along I-90 and the Beltline. The Beltline route is approximately 22 miles shorter than the southern route, and is therefore preferred by ATC. In addition to two proposed routes for the line, there are two options for its construction. One option is to support the transmission line overhead on towers that are typically 120-130 feet high, spaced at intervals of approximately 900 feet. The other option is to bury part or all of the transmission line underground. The PSC will decide which of the two proposed routes for the transmission line will be selected and whether the line will be supported overhead on towers or buried underground or a combination of both If the Beltline route for the transmission line is selected by the PSC, a segment of the line will run immediately adjacent to the southwest border the Arboretum.
Recognizing the adverse biological and environmental impact that the 345 kV Rockdale to Middleton transmission line will have on the UW-Arboretum if the line is routed above ground along the Beltline in proximity to the Arboretum, the Biological Sciences Strategic Planning Committee (BSSPC), one of the Biological Sciences Divisional Committees, voted unanimously on 13 February 2008 to urge the Campus Planning Committee (CPC) to adopt a resolution endorsing that the transmission line be buried.
On 28 February 2008 the CPC heard testimony from the BSSPC and others opposing an overhead transmission line along the Beltline and calling for the transmission line to be buried. Professor Stephen Ventura, Department of Soil Science and environmental member of the CPC, introduced the following resolution at the CPC meeting:
Whereas the construction of a 345 kV electricity transmission line entails significant environmental, economic and cultural impacts; And, whereas the option of constructing an underground line may substantially mitigate these impacts; Therefore, the Campus Planning Committee recommends that the Office of the Chancellor convey to the Public Service Commission a recommendation to conduct independent and unbiased investigation of the feasibility, costs, and benefits of underground construction along the preferred route of the proposed Dane County line.
The members of the CPC voted unanimously to adopt the resolution and forward it to the Office of the Chancellor. Others who support burying the transmission line include: the Dane County Board of Supervisors, the cities of Middleton, Verona, Fitchburg and Monona, the Dane County Towns Association, the Dane County Cities and Villages Association and the University of Wisconsin Arboretum.
The Department of Transportation (DOT) has estimated that the increase in cost to bury the proposed 345 kV transmission line along the Beltline instead of routing it on towers is $100 million dollars. This translates to a temporary rate increase of 14 cents/month for the next 12 years if all of the ratepayers in ATC’s service area are charged and approximately $3.50/month if the charge is levied only on Dane County ratepayers. However, the cost differential is likely to be substantially less than this as the true cost of an overhead line must include the expense of moving some of the towers in the next 5-10 years, as called for by the DOT, to accommodate future road and building construction. Moreover, an underground line requires less maintenance than an overhead line, and thus the real cost difference between the two is further reduced.
Dane County’s Comprehensive Plan calls for the preservation and restoration of wetlands, woodlands and soils, to protect them for wildlife habitat, to preserve natural beauty, ensure water quality and protect lands and waters critical in conserving endangered and threatened plants and animals. Running an overhead 345 kV transmission line along the Beltline adjacent to the UW-Arboretum, which is among the most prized and distinctive natural resources in the Upper Midwest, is in direct conflict with the county’s comprehensive plan.
For all of these reasons, we believe that the biological and environmental damage to the UW-Arboretum that would result from an overhead 345 kV transmission line along the Beltline is unacceptable, and that should the proposed Beltline route for the line be approved by the PSC, that the line be buried underground.
WHEREAS the Academic Staff Assembly firmly believes that the University of Wisconsin Arboretum is a unique worldwide resource for teaching and research; and
WHEREAS the Arboretum is a fragile ecological resource under constant challenge by surrounding development, human traffic, pollution, and the artifacts of contemporary society; and
WHEREAS the Arboretum is home to hundreds of species of plants and animals, some of which appear on the Wisconsin Endangered and Threatened Species List; and
WHEREAS the Arboretum provides citizens in the towns and cities that surround it and from throughout Dane County and beyond the opportunity to escape temporarily from the noise and visual clamor of civilization; and
WHEREAS a 345kV overhead transmission line will present a clear and present danger to the birds, bats and other species that live in the Arboretum;
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the UW-Madison Academic Staff Assembly, the representative governance body of the university academic staff, urges the Public Service Commission that should the Beltline route be selected for the Rockdale to Middleton 345 kV transmission line proposed by ATC, that ATC be required at minimum to bury that part of transmission line that will run along the southwest border of the University of Wisconsin Arboretum in order to ensure that the Arboretum will not be placed at risk and that its integrity for future generations will be protected.