NIMBY Indeed

Our neighborhood has small lots, plenty of common greenspace, energy-efficient homes, nature trails, no overhead wires, and multiple kids in very nearly every single home. Last summer, we received a letter asking whether we would prefer a new high voltage power line to be located alongside the left of our neighborhood or by the arboretum in the middle.

We started going to “community input” meetings in the fall, and the more we found out, the more we were enraged. My wife Robin put together a grass-roots organization, WireSafeWisconin, and now this short video. (The speakers in the video are a former electric industry executive and a state assistant attorney general. The non-industrialized landscape pictures are of our neighborhood.)

We’ve been getting traction on local TV, radio, and newspapers, but these guys are pretty well armed. Time to break out the nuclear weapons. Below the fold is a letter to the editor tying the evil transmission company to the Wisconsin state influence scandal that has already brought down several leading state politicians (including state senate majority leader Chuck Chvala). With this escalation, Robin and I are beginning to feel like the protagonists in Cory Doctrow‘s Nimby and the D-Hoppers.

To the Editors of the Wisconsin State Journal:

Ben Fischer’s fine March 19th business story featured ATC’s Mark Williamson as chief apologist for his company’s operations as a state-created, unregulated, for-profit monopoly that is guaranteed above-industry profits from electric rate-payers on all its unchecked transmission-line construction. The article enumerated a small fraction of the connections between the company and the political process that created it. Williamson’s theme is that this is all ok because his actions must be transparent and that “If you want information from us, we’ll give it to you.”

But it is difficult to ask questions when the answer comes in the form of a cease and desist letter from Mark Williamson’s attorneys. Public court documents in the Chuck Chvala case state that Williamson testified that he offered to “route money to the Kansas Democratic Party, and that such contributions would be ‘helpful’ to [Chvala].” The court documents say that Williamson produced the checks to show that he had acted on this plan, knowing that direct “corporate coffer contributions to political candidates and political committees are forbidden by law within the State of Wisconsin.” On reading this, I wrote to a private mailing list for those concerned with a power line that ATC is attempting to run through our neighborhood. I cited the sources and asked if anyone knew more about this. Williamson’s lawyers then threatened legal action for my question, without any explanation other than that “Mr. Willamson never engaged in any such activity.” I’d love to know whether the lawyers feel that the court reporter was lying, or whether Williamson’s testimony against Chvala was a lie.

I think that given this willingness to manipulate the system, Williamson owes our citizens a better explanation of this and other issues of “transparency” among ATC’s powerful connections mentioned in Fischer’s article. The article illustrates, for example, that one ATC director is “a partner in Quarles & Brady, a prominent Wisconsin law firm.” The employees of this influential firm have donated more than $380,000 to Wisconsin politicians since ’89. Law partner Frank Daily has actually made illegally excessive contributions to Governor Doyle. Given the close ties of this firm to ATC, I would like an explanation.

Williamson notes in the Fischer article that his private company is garnering big-time interest from potential investors. But Governor Thompson’s Reliability 2000 act authorized a non-profit company! I would like an explanation of how ATC came to be a for-profit monopoly.

I understand that the Wisconsin Attorney General’s office is now investigating complaints from other states regarding the role that ATC and its corruption have had in increasing rates for other state’s citizens. I would like an explanation of the process by which our own rates have, on Williamson’s watch, gone from being the cheapest in the Midwest to being the most expensive. Or of how ATC’s profit margin is more than three times higher than the oil companies’ returns that Governor Doyle investigated following Katrina, while ATC is only being investigated at the request of other states.

Howard Stearns
Waunakee, Wisconsin

About Stearns

Howard Stearns works at High Fidelity, Inc., creating the metaverse. Mr. Stearns has a quarter century experience in systems engineering, applications consulting, and management of advanced software technologies. He was the technical lead of University of Wisconsin's Croquet project, an ambitious project convened by computing pioneer Alan Kay to transform collaboration through 3D graphics and real-time, persistent shared spaces. The CAD integration products Mr. Stearns created for expert system pioneer ICAD set the market standard through IPO and acquisition by Oracle. The embedded systems he wrote helped transform the industrial diamond market. In the early 2000s, Mr. Stearns was named Technology Strategist for Curl, the only startup founded by WWW pioneer Tim Berners-Lee. An expert on programming languages and operating systems, Mr. Stearns created the Eclipse commercial Common Lisp programming implementation. Mr. Stearns has two degrees from M.I.T., and has directed family businesses in early childhood education and publishing.

One Comment

  1. Howard,

    That’s taking it to them. Good for you guys. Looks like you may have hooked a giant fish, so be prepared for the long struggle (like I’m telling you something you don’t already know!).

    “Nice” to see that Chvala is a Democrat. Way to break my stereotyping all bad politicians as Republicans, Chuckie. Thanks a lot.

    Anyway, I remember reading somewhere, about the hooking of the larest fish ever caught with a rod and reel. It was not some hard-fighthing marlin off the Florida Keys. It was some halibut in the cold waters off Alaska, and basically the “fight” to reel it in was like a “fight” with a sunken dump truck. In other words, it didn’t fight so much as it just sat there.

    That’s the kind of lump power that these established entities have. But you can prevail, I do believe it. Good courage to all of you.

    P.S. If I remember the halibut story correctly, that fish is not “official” because the person who was holding the pole when the fish was hooked eventually tired and handed it to somebody else. And maybe it wasnt the biggest fish ever caught, but I do think it was. However, the story does not hang on that. Also note that Marlins are not prized for eating, but Halibut are. They are an uglier fish to pull up from the deep, but many people can benefit.

    I’ve kind of lost track of where this story is going, metaphor-wise, but I do like it. Even though I live in an area where depletion of the fisheries is a daily topic of conversation. Somehow I think the fisheries of corrupt corporate-government sweetheart deals are in no danger of running out of stock.

Comments are closed