|Register-Guard, Eugene/Oregon 01.12.1978|
Snowy TV and itchy skin
Power line shocks Minnesota area
By John Lundquist, of Associated Press
LOWRY, Minn. - It can make your skin itch, maybe cause your tractor to lose power, and clutter your radio with static and your TV set with a "snowy" picture.
That's what some farm folks say about the power line that runs near their rural homes.
But the target of most complaints is the noise buildup on some telephone circuits, particularly those that parallel the 400-kilovolt, direct current line. So much so, that United Power Association and Cooperative Power Association are only testing when there's a minimum of phone use, between midnight and 6 a.m.
United, of Elk River, Minn., and Cooperative, Edina, Minn., have built - through contractors - what's become one of the most controversial power-line projetcts in the nation, the 427-mile stretch between Underwood, N.D., and Delano, Minn. Fed by a generator burning North Dakota lignite coal, the power line is to serve the 33 member co-ops of United and Cooperative in Minnesota and one in Wisconsin. Some 164 miles of line run through western and central Minnesota.
The protest has engendered courtroom actions and tense, pushing confrontations in bitter winter cold between 150 state troopers guarding construction crews and 200 protesters in snowy fields.
Four towers for the line have been toppled by vandals. One guard was wounded by shotgun fire last March. And hundreds of $15 glass insulators have been shot out by opponents in recent weeks.
Nineteen protesters, urban sympathizers of farmers, went to jury trial earlier this month for alleged trespassing on a road leading to the line's eastern terminus near Delano. All were acquitted.
The trespass trial drew international attention when the Soviet news agency Tass sent a reporter to cover it. Dean Reed, an entertainer living in East Germany, was one of the defendants.
George Crocker, a leader in General Assembly to Stop the Power Lines, called GASP, estimates some 150 charges have been filed by authorities the past 2½ years as the line was being constructed. Some protesters have been arrested more than once. Many cases are pending.
The co-ops got the last tower in place Sept. 26 and sent the first test charge through the line on Oct. 17. Intermittent daytime tests followed, and the complaints started to come in.
Marilyn Gruber told a reporter the sensation she'd felt beneath the charged line running over their farmyard. "It feels like a spider crawling on you," she said.
"You can hear it, you can feel it but you can't see it," agreed her husband Werner, who said "leaves crackled like rain was falling." Mrs. Gruber likened the noise to frying bacon.
The couple and their seven school-age children live on a 280-acre farm 12 miles northwest of Paynesville.
Gruber, 43, said static drowned out reception on his tractor radio when he drove beneath the line. Another time, the tractor lost power as he hauled a load up a slight incline beneath the line, he said.
The Grubers feel the tower some 600 feet from their backyard is an unsightly intrusion. It's smack in line with a decorative windmill Gruber put up two years ago near a tree-fringed creek.
Matt Woida, a Sauk Centre farmer, said the power line interfered with phone calls. When he's on the phone with callers, he said, "you can hear them but they can't hear you."
Bud Morrow, manager of one of the four local phone companies getting complaints about noise, said perhaps 30 to 50 customers have trouble in a six- to seven-mile stretch near Paynesville.
"People on phone lines that run parallel to the power lines have the most problems," he said. "I think we're going to have to move some of the telephone cable to ease some of the problems."
But United and Cooperative engineers hope the trouble can be corrected, possibly with a better filtering system.
Meanwhile, meetings at the brick firehous-city hall at Lowry - sometimes springboards to confrontation at construction sites - have stopped. Opponents are instead holding raffles, dinners and dances.
The co-ops report vandalism has continued on the line, however. Bolts have been loosened on tower bases, the metal legs sawed through, or glass insulators shattered with rifle fire.
The two utilities had as many as 300 security guards at one time last summer. Now, two helicopter crews swing along the Minnesota segment of the line to make daily checks and repairs.
The utilities say the cost of power line opposition - for lawyers, security forces and vandalism - has been $140 million.
The utilities and the project's general contractor have offered up to $200,000 in rewards for information leading to conviction of those responsible for the shooting incident and the four tower topplings.
United and Cooperative put the total cost of the project at more than $1.2 billion, of which $710 million is for the generating plant, $320 for the line and $215 for mining facilities and coal.
United General Manager Philip O. Martin says that the line will be operated commercially next spring.
"It seems inconceivable you wouldn't go through with it when you've got that much money invested," he said.