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115kV power line moving in

Louise Safratowich stands on her front step on 141st Avenue. A high voltage power line will be running through her front lawn in a few months. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)1 / 2
Summerhill Farm patrons will get a close look at the power line, which runs through the back parking lot. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)2 / 2

Come fall, Louise Safratowich will walk out of her front door and directly under a high voltage power line.

As progress moves forward on the 115kV line that will service the Potato Lake area of Hubbard County, residents are getting an up front and personal look at how close the lines will come to them.

It may be too close for some.

"They were going to put it across the road," Safratowich said of her 141st Avenue home. "But they decided it would be cheaper to go this way."

Safratowich's front yard has been clear-cut except for one small tree holding her birdfeeders.

"They took oak, birch and a Norway pine over there," she said pointing. Her formerly wooded front lot is now fully exposed to the roadway.

"They did pay me for the trees," she added.

The trees around the swing set her grandchildren played on have also been removed.

"As far as Louise's property our original design was to go across on the other side of the road but we had gone out and met with them early and they (her family) were willing to have it stay on the west side," Senior Field Representative Michelle Lommel said. "So that was something we actually did with their agreement and input early on. It's always different when those trees first go down."

Summerhill Farm's back parking lot now has a power line running through it. Owners did not respond by deadline to a call seeking comment.

The route hasn't changed from what a state agency approved, said Project Communication Specialist Lori Buffington.

The line has been controversial since its plan was unveiled more than a year ago.

Despite public hearings in which residents voiced their opposition, Minnesota's Public Utilities Commission authorized a route that would be most cost-effective for customers of Great River Energy and Itasca-Mantrap Cooperative Electrical Association.

Opponents said the route chosen would do the most harm to wildlife and properties along the right-of-way. A 50-foot-wide swath of property has been cleared on each side f the road to give GRE access to the lines once built.

"Unfortunately on Louise's property there was some miscommunication between us and our tree contractor that's working on the project; there was a red pine we were hoping to leave and it was located on the edge of the easement and it was accidentally cut down," Lommel said. "We, I think, made that right."

And Lommel said that was the first mishap on the project.

The line will run 7.25 miles from a new substation to be built on Highway 71 north of Park Rapids - and Summerhill Farm- with lines eventually running to the Mantrap substation on County Road 4, northeast of Park Rapids.

The lines are being built for a 115 kV transmission but will be operated at 34.5 kV until the substations are converted to the higher power.

"The project was broken up into two segments to allow construction in the low segments first," said Buffington of GRE.

"We were working over the winter on Highway 71 and 230th Street in the low areas," she added. "That's the first phase of the project and much of that is complete. We have roughly half the poles up and the wires are strung."

Work in those areas has been temporarily halted due to road restrictions. Once those have been lifted, work on County Road 18 begins, likely late spring.

That stretch was the most bitterly contested.

Tree clearing has begun on the far western section of the roadway and will continue.

Buffington said despite opponents' vow to hinder easement acquisition, "It's progressing well and we're still looking at fall energization.

"Easement acquisition is progressing smoothly and it's almost done." Buffington said she was not aware of any complaints from residents.

"We've found that with the forestry being such a big industry up there, trees have not been as much of an issue as we've seen on some other projects and everybody's been real cooperative and understanding of how trees can be a concern for our overhead lines," Lommel said.

Increasing electrical demands have driven the push to complete the project almost five years before it was initially anticipated.

Once finished, it will reduce low voltage problems and the potential for brownouts and blackouts, company official said during the public hearing process.

Opponents repeatedly questioned the need for the lines and claimed their questions never received substantive answers.

"Routing transmission lines is never easy," Buffington said. "We try to do the best we can to minimize the impact our projects have and work with the landowners to address their concerns. It's never easy and there are so many things to balance and we do the best we can."

Landowners are asked to contact Lommel if they have any questions about the project.

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is the outdoors editor. She covers courts, business and breaking news in addition to outdoors events.

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