ESCANABA - Several property owners near the route of a proposed transmission line and multi-use trail that would run through Delta County are speaking up to have their concerns about the project heard.
American Transmission Co. - which owns, operates, and maintains high-voltage electric transmission lines serving parts of Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan and Minnesota - has proposed to install a single 138-kilovolt line from the Holmes Substation in Menominee County to the Old Mead Road Substation in Escanaba as part of ATC's Bay Lake Project. The line is aimed to improve electric reliability in the area.
The proposed route for the project uses approximately 22 miles of an abandoned railroad corridor between Hermansville and Escanaba, which has been acquired by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, according to Brett French, regional manager of external relations for ATC. French addressed progress on the project at a Delta County Board of Commissioners meeting in July.
An alternative route identified would coincide with the U.S. 2 corridor.
However, not all local residents living next to the proposed route's location along the railroad corridor are in favor of the plan, mostly due to health concerns from exposure to electric and magnetic fields (EMFs).
"There's such an increase in leukemia," said property owner Emily Viau. "A lot of the studies in America have not necessarily proven that, but other countries have certainly proven that. Britain, France, other studies, show a dramatic increase, especially in childhood leukemia and a lot of the people that live near this proposed route have small children."
According to Jackie Olson, corporate communications representative with ATC, health concerns from exposure to electric and magnetic fields has been thoroughly researched in the past 30 years.
"Anything that uses or carries electricity generates EMF, so we are exposed to these fields from wiring in our homes, appliances, computers, etc.," she said.
She also noted field strength decreases dramatically the further one is away from the EMF source.
A fact sheet from the National Cancer Institute notes there is limited evidence that magnetic fields cause childhood leukemia, and inadequate evidence that these magnetic fields cause other cancers in children.
"Scientists generally agree that the research on EMF, taken as a whole, shows no consistent association between exposure to these fields and health risks," Jackie Olson said.
Carolyn Olson, who also lives next to the proposed route, believes the argument on everyday exposure to EMFs is faulty, since a transmission line is constantly generating electricity; however, household appliances can be turned off when not being used.
"What they say is that you're exposed to EMFs all the time in your appliances, but the thing is, your appliances aren't on all the time and you don't stand right next to them all the time," she said.
In addition to the proposed transmission line route, ATC has offered to help the DNR fund and construct a new multi-use recreational trail along the route, which the DNR says could be used for hiking, biking, ORVs, snowmobiles and equestrian use.
Viau questioned the safety of the recreation trail, since she currently lives next to an ORV trail with a large number of vehicles traveling at high speeds. Garbage is also dumped along the trail and people hunt from it as well, she said.
"It's so noisy. It's so dusty. It is such an aggravation," she said, noting in her more than four years of living next to the trail, she has only seen one conservation officer there.
Carolyn Olson also said she is concerned about the dust from a multi-use trail.
"They've actually done studies that show that the dust particles stick more when they're in an electromagnetic field," she said. "So if you're right next to somebody's house, you have this dust that's sticking to people and what's that going to do to people with asthma?"
The potential decrease in property value for homes next to the proposed route and trail are also key issues with many landowners. Local resident Linda Benike questioned what the line and route would mean for residents who want to sell their homes.
"If you put your house up for sale and people know that there's a possibility of a trail going in there, who's going to want to buy your house?" she asked.
Benike and her husband Terry are also concerned about losing trees along the trail next to their home and about how much privacy they would have with the trail nearby.
"We're going to have no privacy whatsoever, and that's our retirement home," she said.
Homeowner Beth Charles is worried about the exact location of the route, since based on stakes placed in the ground by her house, the transmission line would run right through her living room and kitchen. She said when contacting ATC about this, no one has been able to answer her questions.
"I think they should explore an alternative route," she said. "I think that they are putting this as their number one because of the ORV trail and I don't think that's consciously fair."
"It's going to be cheaper for ATC to get easement and in exchange they're going to fund this trail being made into an ORV trail," she said. "It's going to be cheaper for them to pay for that than it would be to buy easement off of the property owners."
Regarding this concern, Jackie Olson from ATC said prudent routing and siting policies for new transmission lines call for examining existing corridors.
"The abandoned railroad corridor is a linear feature that presented an attractive opportunity for co-location," she said, noting about half of the total 58 mile route would follow existing transmission lines and not require any new right-of-way, while also limiting new impacts.
"The concerns ... underscore the importance of landowners and other individuals to continue to participate in the review and approval process," she added. "The PSC will determine the route. We will include all comments we have received in our application, and landowners will have opportunities to comment directly to the PSC during the agency's review."
Carolyn Olson said she hopes the commission will take these concerns into consideration.
"I think it's the public service commission's job to look at the placement of it and the health concerns," she said. "I think they will look at it."
Viau, however, said she is afraid the commission will not look at their concerns and wonders what will factor into their decision when looking at the best possible option.
ATC hopes to begin construction on the project in 2015 and to place the line in service in late 2016.
For more information on the project, visit www.BayLakeProject.com.