With the Minnesota portion of the Arrowhead-Weston power line approved, attorneys for a landowner in the path of the Wisconsin part of the project are asking for a state investigation.

They have asked Wisconsin Attorney General James Doyle to declare as unconstitutional a law they believe was passed to facilitate the project.

"It's a fairly complex issue," said Daniel D. Hannula, partner in the Superior law firm of Ashley, Hannula & Halom. For expertise in utilities regulation, he enlisted attorney Jon Kingstad of Afton.

The probe they want involves a spectrum of utility actions at the state level, which culminated in the 1999 passage of legislation known as "Reliability 2000."

According to Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSC), a central provision of the law was the creation of a new electric power transmission company. The action represented a restructuring of the state's electric industry.

It was based on studying other states, including California. The law eventually led to the creation of the American Transmission Company (ATC), which acquired the power transmission lines of a number of Wisconsin utility companies, cooperatives and municipal utilities.

Utilities that divested their transmission assets by Jan. 1 qualified for less restrictive state limits on non-utility investments.

Wisconsin Department of Revenue documents report that the purpose of creating the company was to ensure energy reliability by centralizing responsibility in a single entity and to ensure that municipal utilities and small private electric companies have access to the wholesale electricity market.

But according to Hannula, the purpose of the ATC is to promote and expedite construction of the controversial Arrowhead-Weston line.

"Without this company, the corporate interests involved would not have the right to take private property by eminent domain," he said. "Lacking this ability, the private companies that will benefit from the power line, including Minnesota Power Company, would not be the threat to property owners from Superior to Wausau that they are today."

He contends that the law gives the powers of a public utility in Wisconsin -- the power to condemn property -- to ATC and in effect is a private law and contrary to the state constitution.

"Private laws that grant special corporate privileges, especially the right to condemn property, are a violation of Wisconsin's constitution," said Kingstad.

Tracing the history of ATC revealed some of the efforts to get the measure passed. In his letter to Doyle, Hannula said, "... we uncovered a long-term, heavily lobbied legislative assault on the structure of Wisconsin utility law .... It culminated in the lobbying of legislation to create American Transmission Company, LLC."

He said despite the lobbying efforts, which included those of California's Pacific Gas & Electric, and backing by former Gov. Tommy Thompson, the bill died in committee.

It later resurfaced under the provisions of the Reliability 2000 legislation contained in Thompson's 1999-2000 budget.

"It's unclear whether our elected officials knew the action that had been rejected in committee was included in the budget bill," said Hannula. "Including private bills, such as the one that created ATC, in the budget bill is yet another violation of Wisconsin law."

Also in the letter, the attorneys said that the application for the Arrowhead-Weston line was filed by some of the same corporations involved in the formation of ATC. Those applicants were Minnesota Power and Wisconsin Public Service Corporation.

An ATC news release from Feb. 23, 2000, lists Alliant Energy, Madison Gas & Electric, Minnesota Power Inc., Wisconsin Electric, Wisconsin Public Power Inc., and Wisconsin Public Service as the six companies that participated in its development.

On Monday, Terry M. Johnson, with Allete corporate relations, said that at this time, there is nothing that legally binds Minnesota Power and ATC. He said ATC has five member utilities that have merged transmission systems.

He added that ATC is part of a larger reliability movement in Wisconsin and has nothing to do with the proposed Arrowhead-Weston power line project. Johnson said ATC is about ensuring that customers have a reliable transmission system.

Hannula thinks it could be at least two to four weeks before he hears back from Madison. He said if the attorney general doesn't take action on the issue, it would free his client to do so.

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