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Advice offered on getting projects approved

“It doesn’t matter what you are doing nowadays: Every project is controversial to someone.”

Attorney Chad Taylor
DeWitt, Ross & Stevens

The attorneys at DeWitt, Ross & Stevens noticed that the construction projects
they were working on had one thing in common.

They all faced opposition of some sort while seeking government approval, whether
it was from local residents concerned about increasing traffic, environmentalists
sweating water consumption or land-use questions, or neighbors worried about
noise.

“It doesn’t matter what you are doing nowadays: Every project is
controversial to someone,” said DeWitt attorney Chad Taylor.

That’s why the law firm organized a Dec. 6 conference in Waukesha called
Project Siting 101: Obtaining Approval for your Controversial Development Project.

Project opposition has become more organized than in the past, Taylor said,
in terms of getting involved in the regulatory process and encouraging group
members to take action. As an example, he pointed out The Big-Box Tool-Kit:
A Guide to Sustaining Communities on the Midwest Environmental Advocates’
Web site. The guide has chapters on open meetings and public records laws, annexation
and zoning and storm-water management.

Taylor said the overall message for developers is they need to do their homework
up front. Hire an environmental engineer, do a wetlands analysis, get a noise
expert and hire a firm to do a traffic study, he said.

Somebody is going to take a project to task on these questions when it seeks
government approval, and having a traffic study prepared before residents raise
concerns is better than putting the project on hold so a study can be completed,
he said.

“You have to identify what the opposition is going to say and tackle that
up front,” Taylor said. “You have to be ready to answer questions,
and when you go in you already want to have the answers to those questions,
or else there will be a delay.”

Homework pays off

The American Transmission Co., which is in the middle of a 10-year construction
effort to ensure Wisconsin’s power lines can handle future energy needs,
spends at least two years planning a new power line before requesting state
approval to build it. Once the utility determines the general area a new line
would run through, it works with local residents to determine two different
paths for the proposed power line, said Franc Fennessy, ATC manager of local
relations.

“You are effectively putting a line here that will be around for several
generations, so we better do it right,” he said. “I believe it’s
good business to know what your neighbors are going to think of your great idea.”

Fennessy said the utility, which gets local input on what the two alternative
routes should be, then calls the residents in again to determine which is their
preferred route. The ATC will complete all of this before submitting an application
to the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin to get approval for the project.

The rulebooks don’t require it, and it is an expense, but it pays off,
Fennessy said. Getting local support up front helps ensure the PSC won’t
fall under political pressure, that lawsuits won’t pop up and that locals
won’t jack up the purchasing price of the right of way ATC needs to build
the line, he said.

“Everything we do in public outreach is in furtherance of us getting our
project approved; if our projects are enormously controversial, it makes it
more difficult for the Public Service Commission,” he said. “The modest
cost of doing the work this way has enormous benefits to us.”

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