MADISON — State regulators this week ordered the Village of Somers to halt construction of a $5.6 million utility project that would bring water to previously unserved properties.
The Public Service Commission issued the order after learning from a project consultant in late May that about 40 percent of the work, valued at $2 million, has been completed without agency approval.
The PSC is investigating whether a certificate of authority was required for the work completed to date on the project.
The Somers Water Utility applied for a construction permit in January through its consultants, Baxter & Woodman, a regional company with offices in Burlington and Milwaukee. The project includes installing several miles of water mains and a transfer station to lift water over the subcontinental divide. The consultants refer to part of the project in some documents as “Water Mains West of the Divide.”
Because water would be transferred between the Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River basins, additional permitting is required to determine if the project complies with the Great Lakes Compact.
The Department of Natural Resources represents the state in those matters.
Since filing the construction application on Jan. 24, Baxter & Woodman have sent the PSC several filings to delineate wetlands and to support the need for the project.
The approval process
The process for approving construction requests is outlined in state statues and the administrative code. It involves PSC staff reviewing the need for the project, its effect on the ability of the utility to serve its customers, the proposed routes and potential environmental and social impacts.
The public comment period on the project’s environmental impacts closed June 2.
Once the staff determines whether to approve, modify or deny Somers’ application, the recommendation is sent to the PSC’s three commissioners, or a division administrator, to include any conditions or modifications.
A project on the scope of “Mains West of the Divide” typically takes the PSC more than a few months to analyze and issue a final order.
There’s been no indication in the documents posted to the PSC’s website that that has occurred.
Village Administrator Jason Peters declined to comment on the cease and desist letter. As did Vanessa Wishart, an attorney representing the village in the PSC investigation.
A PSC spokesman said Wednesday that the agency will request more information about the “unauthorized construction” part of the project but had no estimate of how long it would take to complete its investigation.
The PSC will simultaneously review Somers’ project application and investigate the “unauthorized construction,” spokesman Jerel Ballard wrote in response to a reporter’s questions.
“However, until the investigation into the unauthorized construction is complete no decision can be made (on the construction application),” Ballard wrote.
The project is subject to PSC approval because it exceeds $432,000, which is 25 percent of the utility’s operating revenues in the prior year, another criteria outlined in the administrative code.
In its June 7 “Cease and Desist” letter, the PSC stated that violations of state law and commission rules are serious matters and that “utilities are expected to know and follow the law.”
Violations can result in the commission disallowing a utility from recovering the cost of unauthorized projects from ratepayers and, in the most serious cases, refer the matter to the state Department of Justice for enforcement action.
According to an April 13 letter from Douglas Snyder, of Baxter & Woodman, to the PSC the proposed water main would initially serve: the Pritzker Archives & Memorial Park Center, now under construction at Highway E and 100th Avenue; a Kwik Trip gas station/car wash, proposed for the northeast corner of Highway S (Burlington Road) and 120th Avenue; and the existing BP gas station, at the northwest corner of Highway S and 120th.
TAWANI Enterprises, the developer of the Pritzker Archives & Memorial Park Center, is providing the letter of credit to fund the construction of the proposed improvements. The utility will subsequently fund the transfer station and the oversizing for any water main installed that is larger than a 12-inch diameter.
The project is estimated to cost $5.6 million and the utility stated that $4.08 million would be financed by special assessments on adjacent property owners.
The assessment is estimated at approximately $100 per foot of frontage for a proposed 12-inch water main.
The remaining $1.48 million is proposed to be financed by tax incremental financing or “utility/municipal finances”, according to a May 17 letter the PSC sent to landowners along the proposed route.
Snyder’s Jan. 24 letter to the PSC stated that construction of some facilities would begin before March and was expected to be operational by Aug. 31.
Route of the water line
His April 13 letter to the PSC outlined the project’s location: The water transfer station would be constructed on the south side of 18th Street (Highway L) about 1,200 feet east of the intersection with 88th Avenue The letter detailed the water main’s proposed route as going west from the transfer station, crossing 88th Avenue (Highway H) to the intersection of 100th Ave.
The main would proceed north to the intersection with 12th Street (Highway E), then west along 12th to the intersection with the I-94 east frontage road, also known as 120th Avenue. The main would proceed south along the eastern side of the frontage road, and end just north of the intersection of 120th Ave. and Burlington Road (Highway S).
The proposed route passes many properties that are agricultural fields, farmsteads and rural houses, and the Maplecrest Country Club, Snyder wrote.
This article has been updated since publication to correct several errors.