Parks and high-voltage power lines do not mix.
That is the message the Dakota County Board plans to send to the utility companies plotting a route for the CapX2020 power line from Hampton to La Crosse, Wis.
Two of the four routes being considered have the power lines passing through Lake Byllesby Regional Park to cross the Cannon River.
"We try and protect the things which are near and dear to us," said Commissioner Tom Egan. "Certainly, the regional park and the [Byllesby] dam are two things we're attempting to protect."
The planned power line in southern Dakota County, strung on poles 140 to 170 feet high, is just one segment of a 700-mile, $1.7 billion expansion of the Minnesota power grid by Xcel Energy and Great River Energy. Other segments, including one running from Brookings, S.D., to Hampton, have already been approved.
In weighing the segments near the Cannon River, the county board stopped short of picking a favorite among the two other route proposals -- one along Hwy. 52 heading southeast out of Hampton, and the other snaking cross country and crossing the river near the park's western boundary.
The route along Hwy. 52, initially preferred by the utilities, would bisect a conservation easement held by the county and the federal government that expressly prohibits the addition of utilities.
Getting around the conservation easement could push the power line farther out into private land.
"You're kind of put between a rock and a hard spot on some of these things," said Commissioner Liz Workman. "No one is ever happy when you get this stuff going through."
The board members, often unanimous in their decisions, spent more than an hour in committee debating the possible power line routes and then decided on a 5-2 vote to request that the project bypass the park.
Commissioners Joe Harris and Will Branning voted against the resolution.
"I didn't want to get involved," said Branning, who said he preferred leaving the decision up to the CapX2020 group and the state Public Utilities Commission.
The board did not offer an opinion during the previous route selection process, from Brookings to Hampton.
Lake Byllesby Regional Park, which has a campground, boat launch and swimming beach, already has some smaller power lines running through it to connect to the hydroelectric dam that forms the reservoir.
But commissioners noted that the new line would be much larger and raised questions about how it could affect an upgrade of the dam already in the works and future plans for a pedestrian bridge connecting Dakota and Goodhue counties.
They also raised concerns about migratory birds that are prominent in the western portion of the park, drawing bird watchers.
"That's what a lot of people come to our park for," said Commissioner Nancy Schouweiler. "I was concerned that if you don't say anything, they assume we agree with what they've got."
An administrative law judge will consider the county's comments and others before making a recommendation to the PUC later this year.
Pending approval, construction of the power line is expected to begin in 2012.
Katie Humphrey • 952-882-9056