This article was in MinnPost on Friday, somehow I missed it — Steve Berg did a great job spelling it all out.  Perhaps Xcel will get the message that they’ve really screwed up and need to do this differently?

Here’s the referenced Minneapolis City Council Health, Energy and Environment Committee’s Resolution:

Resolution of Health, Energy & Environment Committee

And here’s Steve Berg’s article in toto:

Power lines over the Midtown Greenway? A classic case of destroying a place to save it

Remember Aesop’s fable about the foolish couple who killed the goose that laid golden eggs? Xcel Energy apparently forgot to reread the tale before launching a plan to run a high-voltage power line over the rim of the Midtown Greenway in south Minneapolis. Like the fable, Xcel’s plan is layered in irony and fraught with unintended consequences.

Here’s hoping that the City Council on Friday can put the brakes on the project long enough for the electric utility and its state regulators to take a deep breath and consider a better solution.

The good part about this particular story is that the Midtown neighborhoods are in the midst of revival. When the recession ends, Xcel expects more growth in a part of the city that already uses more power than its aging grid can handle. It needs more service.

But Midtown owes its success largely to the greenway itself, a remarkable bike trail and linear park carved out of an old railroad trench. Hundreds of new homes and offices have been built along the 5.5-mile greenway in recent years, and more are anticipated. For Xcel to run a high-voltage line over the greenway’s edge figures to ruin the very attraction responsible for the area’s revival.

This is more than a little crazy. A better idea would have been to bury the new line beneath Lake Street (which runs parallel to the greenway) during the street’s recent reconstruction. Apparently Xcel wasn’t interested at the time.

Another alternative
Now the city’s preferred alternative is to bury the line beneath East 28th Street. Xcel complains that going underground would double the project’s $15 million cost, and suggests obliquely that the extra burden might be borne by the neighborhood’s ratepayers, or perhaps the city’s.

It’s clear that underground lines cost more, both to install and maintain. But when Xcel adds service to a new subdivision on the Twin Cities edge, the cost is laid off against the entire rate base. There’s no good reason the cost of updating service in a city neighborhood shouldn’t be handled in the same way – especially when a regional asset like Midtown Greenway is involved.

Indeed, a trend toward infill development will cause similar conflicts in the future as older neighborhoods add demand and require upgraded service. Infill development carries many social, environmental and economic benefits to a metropolitan region. Ratepayers in those neighborhoods shouldn’t be penalized with higher rates than those charged to ratepayers on the suburban fringe.

Three open houses held
Xcel doesn’t need Minneapolis’ official blessing to proceed with its application to the Public Utilities Commission for an overhead line. But it has promised to involve neighborhood residents and city officials in forging a final design. To that end, it has held three open houses on the issue, pointing out that this line would provide power to an additional 7,500 homes and that the 1.25-mile project — running roughly between Hiawatha Avenue and Interstate Hwy. 35W — is part of a larger effort to upgrade service to south Minneapolis.

“We’ll consider input about issues such as aesthetics and recreation in the design and location of the infrastructure and we’ll offer alternatives for consideration,” Judy Poferl, Xcel’s regional vice president, said last fall in launching the project.

But Xcel has failed to convince the neighborhoods or City Hall that going overhead is the best alternative. The Midtown Greenway Coalition has urged Xcel to look more closely at conservation measures. And the City Council’s Health, Energy and Environment Committee (PDF) has concluded that an overhead line would be incompatible with the character of the greenway and its environs.

“A buried line makes more sense in this kind of urban environment,” said Council Member Robert Lilligren.

The county’s interest
Perhaps more than any party, Hennepin County has an interest in the issue’s outcome. The county’s railroad authority owns the greenway and its public-works department recently finished rebuilding nearby Lake Street.

In opposing the overhead line, Commissioner Peter McLaughlin points out the greenway’s status as a historic district and a regional recreation asset. “We have several avenues to explore,” he said. “In the end it may work out that going underground is the only alternative that works for them – and that’s what we hope happens.”

The city, county, state and federal governments have invested millions of dollars in the greenway corridor. Private interests have responded in kind. All have a big stake in protecting their investments. The greenway has boosted a part of the city that’s still a long way from reaching full potential. Why kill the goose just as the golden eggs have begun to appear?

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