Last CHC Hearing Draws Large Crowd

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By: 
Kevin Murphy
The stock photo above is merely listed as “in the United States,” but may offer a glimpse of how the rolling hills in the Driftless Area would appear if the Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line is approved later this summer.

MADISON–It was their last chance to tell the Public Service Commission that a power line proposed to extend between the town of Middleton and Dubuque, IA wasn’t wanted or needed.

The crowd that overflowed the PSC’s largest hearing room to oppose the construction of the Cardinal-Hickory Creek (CHC) power line needed to make the arguments that would convince the commissioners, who after more than two years of study, would vote this summer on the line’s fate.

Mount Horeb Area School District Superintendent Steve Salemo was among the first to testify at the July 27 public hearing. Salemo said the need for the line is based on a false premise that energy demand is increasing, He urged caution be taken on a decision that will have profound consequences on the area. The impact on human health the electro-magnetic fields the line would create needs further study.

“The fullest impact of the lines are not yet realized,” he said.

Sherrill Randall, of Middleton, described the “beautiful valley and ridges,” of the famed Driftless Area the 345-kilovolt line would cross on 150-foot-tall rusty steel poles. Including the 120 acres that she and her husband, Doug, have worked to eradicate invasive species and create habitat to encourage threatened bird species.

“We see owls, eagles and hawks fly over ridges of the Wyoming Valley, but the line would loom over the area for at-risk birds,” she said, which could pose a danger to them.

Once a utility corridor is cut through their property, invasive plant species will follow and Randall doesn’t expect the line’s owner’s American Transmission Co., ITC, and Dairyland Power Cooperative, to give a second thought to the impact it would case.

“It’s hard to believe the utility companies would monitor a 120-mile-long line for garlic mustard. There needs to be a management plan in place (for invasives) or it will be a disaster for southern Wisconsin,” she said.

Like others who were sworn in and testified, Randall seemed exasperated that after investing in energy saving appliances and lighting, or burying their utility lines, a major power line would encroach on their property and their lifestyle.

Many indicated that they moved away from urban areas to enjoy a rural lifestyle and would move away if the power line was approved.

Property values also were at stake. An owner of an IT business said he would lose $200,000 to $400,000 from the value of his 17 acres in the Town of Springdale if the line crosses it. He doubted there would be any compensation for his loss.

“Tap the brakes,” on this project he said. 

If property assessments are lowered because of their proximity to the line, other property assessments will have to increase to fund local governments, another Mount Horeb resident said.

PSC Chair Rebecca Valcq and Commissioner Ellen Nowak listened to the testimony without comment.

The line has its supporters, too.  A Madison man said the line is needed because there’s no excess capacity in the region’s transmission system. The line would support economic growth by bringing wind-generated power from the Dakotas and Minnesota eastward. He also doubted that consumers would cut back enough on their energy usage that would provide an alternative to the building the line. 

Power line projects approved in recent years have contributed to Wisconsin’s having the some of the highest electrical rates in the nation if not the Upper Midwest, said an artist from the Town of Vermont. At a time when electric demand is flat building a $500 million power line is counterproductive to energy conservation measures and increasing solar, wind and other local generation power sources, she said.

The “eyesore” would be passed on future generations, others noted.

The list of governments and organizations that oppose the project is long. It includes Dane County Board of Supervisors, the Mount Horeb Village Board and the Mount Horeb Economic Development Corp., the Town of Springdale, the Ice Age Trail Alliance, The Driftless Area Land Conservancy, the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, the 250 families of the South Central Chapter of the Wisconsin Farmers Union, Folklore Village board of directors, Black Earth Creek Watershed Association and Grant County Amish.

Other organizations and area legislators have asked the PSC to conduct a cost/benefit study of the alternatives to the power line or undergrounding it.

The proposed power line has drawn a record number of parties wanting to formally intervene in the case and comment on the project.

If approved, Wisconsin’s share of the power line would be $72 million and would be in service by 2023, according to ATC.

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