We won't be burned again
WPS said they would move lines that burned Steven Roberts' house down; then they changed their minds, sending it down the busiest streets in that neighborhood. Everyone's mad, but WPS isn't talking
At 2:30 am on May 22, 2019, Steven Roberts and his wife saw their house burn to the ground.
The fire started when an overhead transmission line snapped after a tree fell on it, causing the house to catch fire from the live wire. One year later, WPS officials met with Roberts, telling him they were planning to move the lines to another route to ensure something like that never happens again.
Problem solved, right? Roberts believed that. Other neighbors believed that. Even the city council member for that neighborhood, Lisa Rasmussen, thought that it was the case, as did the city’s public works director.
It seemed to make the most sense to everyone.
Then, in August of last year, WPS officials unveiled a new plan. They had changed the route, deciding to route the high voltage lines up Campus Drive to Fourth Avenue.
Moreover, neighbors say, the reasons WPS officials gave for the changes, and the ones they gave to The Wausonian upon inquiry, didn’t make much sense. The trees along the former proposed route posed a danger of taking down lines and there is too much bedrock in that area.
Rasmussen has lived in that neighborhood for a long time. Doing anything in the entire area means digging into bedrock, she says. They’ll have to do that anywhere they put lines, Rasmussen says, including on Campus Drive. And, Rasmussen and neighbors agree, it seems unlikely they would have spent an entire year set on the previous plan, traversing up Burek Avenue, without studying the terrain.
Moreover, neighbors say that once the change was made, they were told it was pretty much a done deal. They say WPS officials refused to meet with groups of neighbors, and would only meet one-on-one (they did eventually hold group meetings in late December near Christmas that many couldn’t attend).
Rasmussen did what she could, even helping to rally a city committee to deny an easement for WPS; neighbors with Roberts at the head are denying any easements they can to try to delay the project. But none of them believe there is much they can do to stop the route, which would put high-powered transmission lines over the heads of a number of residents, as well as an assisted living home and a dementia care unit.
“They know they have those residents over a barrel,” Rasmussen says. “They have nowhere else to go to get their gas and electricity. If I treated my customers that way I wouldn’t have any.”