We Energies hopes to extend a commercial natural gas pipeline from near Whitewater to the edge of the planned Foxconn development, with one of the two proposed routes for the line running through Brighton and Paris.
The utility applied Friday to the Wisconsin Public Service Commission for permission to build the pipeline, which it said will serve economic development in the region.
The project is projected to cost about $175 million to $183 million, a cost that would be paid by utility ratepayers.
Amy Jahns, a spokeswoman for We Energies, said the 49-mile pipeline project had been a long-term plan for the utility, but the timeline was accelerated in part because of Wisconsin Department of Transportation roadwork projects associated with Foxconn.
“The proposed project will improve reliability and provide a competitive natural gas supply to support economic growth in southeast Wisconsin,” Jahns said, in particular for projects including Foxconn. She said the project has also been timed to be done alongside road construction, those highway projects also being driven in part by the Foxconn development.
“By doing our work now in conjunction with the DOT, we won’t have to rebuild roads in the future that the DOT just improved,” Jahns said.
The proposed route through Kenosha County leads from the Burlington area through farmland to Highway B or 288th Avenue in Brighton, where it would turn north and run to First Street. There, the pipeline would head east along First Street, or Highway KR, to an area just west of Interstate 94.
Along the entire route, the pipeline would run through about 200 properties, including dozens in Brighton and Paris, the project clearing at least 20 feet of right-of-way through residential properties.
The detailed maps of the proposed routes included in the project application show the route cutting along residential front yards in Brighton and Paris, sometimes crossing from the north to the south sides of First Street to avoid buildings.
Pam Kuhlman said two representative of We Energies turned up at her home on 288th Avenue in Brighton Friday asking for permission to do surveying and testing on her property.
“They said they were going to take 50 feet of our property from the right-of-way, all the oaks and everything, completely level everything to put in this pipeline,” Kuhlman said. “I was already in tears. I said you mean you are going to take out every tree, every plant in front of my property for 50 feet?’”
She said they just added, “’We aren’t going to touch your house.’”
Kuhlman said she refused permission for them to test on the property. She and her husband put up “no trespassing” signs after the visit.
For the couple, the issue is especially painful because they moved to their small Brighton farm 15 years ago after losing their last home through eminent domain to make way for a highway project.
Since Friday, Kuhlman said, she has had to keep the curtains to windows that look out on her front yard closed. “Every time I look out I start crying,” she said.
Jahns said We Energies is currently studying the two routes, taking soil samples, surveying and looking at wetland and archaeological issues along the routes. “We are really in the initial stages right now, so we are just doing site visits to get permission to do surveys on land,” she said. “We have to look at the land features, the vegetation features. We look at water; we look at a whole lot of different aspects to see what route makes the most sense.”
The route through Kenosha County is the less expensive of the two routes.
Jahns said the utility hopes the PSC will make a decision on the project by fall 2019, and if it is approved, construction would begin in 2020, with completion in 2021.
Jahns said We Energies would work with individual property owners along the route.
‘Rustic road’ designation
Bill Stone, who owns Brightonwood Orchards on Highway B, said he is not sure how the project would impact his property, but is concerned nonetheless after hearing from neighbors who have been approached by representatives from We Energies.
“I wonder if it matters that this is a state-designated rustic road,” Stone said. “I don’t see why they don’t stick to public lands and state highways where they already have easements.”
The potential loss of trees is disturbing, said Stone, who donated the development rights for his land to the Seno K/RLT Conservancy in 2006.
Brighton Chairman John Kiel said the town is still seeking information on the pipeline’s impact on the community. He said, after it hears from residents, the Brighton Town Board will likely take a position on the proposed route.
“Whatever the town can do to try to influence the process, we’ll try to do,” he said.