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Oronoco Township continues to fight CapX transmission line

MINNEAPOLIS — One of the two groups opposed to the selected routes of CapX 2020 through southeastern Minnesota has taken its plea to the Minnesota Supreme Court.

The Oronoco Township Board voted July 1 to pursue that course of action after a crowd of 20 urged it to keep fighting, according to Oronoco Town Board Chairman Mark Thein. Kay Nord Hunt, the township's attorney, officially filed the petition Wednesday — just before the appeal deadline expired — in its continued attempt to shift the transmission line north from White Bridge Road to the Zumbro Dam.

Last month, the Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed siting decisions made by the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission in 2012.

"We disagree with their decision, and the investment to see whether they will hear our case is relatively small compared to what we've paid in the case already, so we thought we'd send it up and see what happens," Thein said Thursday.

The township has spent about $300,000 fighting the transmission line route over the past few years, Thein said. The petition is expected to cost about $5,000, though that figure would increase significantly if the supreme court agrees to hear the case.

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A group from Cannon Falls was also fighting siting in its area, but it decided against taking the issue to the supreme court on advice of legal counsel Carol Overland.

The timeline moving forward is not set in stone, according to a communications specialist for the Minnesota Judicial branch. Opponents to shifting the transmission line to the Zumbro Dam have 20 calendar days to file a response and the supreme court typically makes its decision on whether to hear the appeal within a 60-day window.

If the appeal is granted, the process would include both groups filing briefing papers and oral arguments prior to an opinion being released, which would be many months down the road.

Overland, a Red Wing attorney who also represents the opponents for the Zumbro Dam route, is skeptical that the petition will be granted.

"I think it's a wasted effort, but I have to see the filing before I make my official legal opinion," Overland said. "As you march up the level of decisions, it's more and more difficult — or impossible — to turn it around. The odds of Oronoco turning this around are very, very slim."

The contested route is the final hurdle remaining in 150-mile, $500-million transmission line that will eventually connect Hampton-Rochester-La Crosse with a 345-kilovolt line. It's unclear if the latest appeal will impact the projected in-service date of late 2015; calls seeking comment were not immediately returned.

The $2.2 billion CapX project, which began in 2005, seeks to improve the energy grid in South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin, and could eventually be connected to Chicago. The transmission lines are expected to improve energy efficiency, primarily through gas and wind power, while making electricity more readily available throughout the region, according to Xcel Energy communications director Tim Carlsgaard.

Xcel is one of 11 investor-owned, co-op and municipal utilities building the project. Among the utilities are Rochester Public Utilities and other members of the Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Agency.

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