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PUC backs itself into a corner in fight on new Big Stone line

PIERRE — Unsure about some of the evidence, the state Public Utilities Commission delayed final action Wednesday on the permit for two companies to construct a high-voltage electricity transmission line across northeastern South Dakota.

Montana-Dakota Utilities and Otter Tail Power want the line to connect new substations near the Big Stone power plant in Grant County and near Ellendale, N.D.

Commission chairman Gary Hanson said he wants more time to review the evidence and the possible conditions that could be placed on the permit.

"I'm just not 100 percent there ready to support this," Hanson said.

The commission faces a deadline of Aug. 22 to issue an order, according to PUC legal counsel John Smith.

"It's some work to write up one of these orders," Smith said.

The matter took another twist Wednesday when the commission allowed several citizens who are opponents to make comments.

"We're talking people who aren't parties to the case," Smith advised the commission.

Tom Welk objected that the comments aren't part of the evidentiary record. He is a private attorney representing the two companies who want to build the line.

"This submission is not under oath," Welk said. "The project doesn't have any problem listening to the comments. But the record is closed."

Company officials said they are looking at another option but didn't disclose it.