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Michelle Phillips

I really thought that the opponents to ATC’s Cardinal-Hickory Creek (CHC) high voltage power lines might actually have a chance at stopping the utility. 

I was wrong.

When I first started working in Middleton, I was commuting back and forth from Iowa, taking Hwy 151 all the way. The first trip I made to our Black Earth office piqued my curiosity with all the signs opposing the CHC line. Of course, soon after meeting Matt Geiger, editor of the Mt. Horeb Mailand former Times-Tribuneeditor, I asked, “So, what’s up with the no ATC signs?”

He gave me a brief history of the project plans and the opposition to the line. My first thought was, “Wow, with so many people opposed, it will never pass.”

Maybe it’s because my mom was a protesting hippie, and I later became involved in protests, including the one in which I was most involved, protesting the war in Iraq. Or maybe because of my desire to produce things locally, including energy, I thought the Wisconsin Public Service Commission (PSC) would realize that what many have deemed an unnecessary power line, was not welcome in tourist driven Mt. Horeb, the Driftless Area, by farmers or townies.

Times-Tribunewriter Kevin Murphy has covered the line’s progress for years, it takes about eight to 10 years to begin construction on a line, Matt has covered it for as long, and I, too, have covered it in the last year and a half. At the public meetings, it was clear that many, many people had concerns about the line. When I went to the first environmental impact meeting, I could only find one person, who would not allow me to use his name, that did not oppose it. I remember at the time he told me (I’m paraphrasing here) that he wasn’t “necessarily opposed to” the CHC line itself, but worried about his land value if it went through his farm.

A call went out months ago for intervenors in the decision process. The intervenors spoke on behalf of those communities, organizations and municipalities affected by the lines construction. There were nearly 70 intervenors accepted by the PSC, though more would have liked to have been included in the process. This is the most intervenors ever assembled on a single project in the State of Wisconsin.

The PSC heard about how the line was coming incredibly close to homes (150 feet in one case near Mt. Horeb). It heard from environmental groups about concerns of the line cutting through the unique Driftless Area, a land that was narrowly missed by more than one glacier and is home to rare and endangered species. It heard from people in Mt. Horeb who worry that the horseshoe-shaped configuration of lines will engulf the tourism they have worked hard to build. There were concerns about pollinators and swaths of pollinator habit that would be destroyed. They heard about concerns for recreational opportunities from hikers, fishers, boaters and cyclists. The board was told also about historically significant sites that would be disrupted by construction.

But it all seems to have fallen on deaf ears.

When Kevin told me that the PSC was making its decision on Aug. 20, to be finalized at the end of September, I told him I would hold a spot on the front page. Last Tuesday I waited anxiously for him to send me the decision, then I got an email around noon with the header “Line Ok’d.” My heart sunk. I waited impatiently for the story and more info. 

The PSC declared that the line was needed to meet the energy demands of the state, in spite of the fact that energy use is down in the area. In spite of Gov. Tony Evers call to increase clean, local, renewable energy in the state. In spite of local, renewable energy sources popping up all around us.

The decision flies in the face of all those that will be affected. With the line ending in the Town of Middleton, it won’t be the board members who lose their livelihood, who see home values drop or watch pollinators disappear across the 100-mile stretch of high voltage lines. They will be safely tucked away with their heads buried in the sand, or perhaps enjoying some kick-back from ATC.

The only hope of the line being stopped at this point lies in Iowa. The Iowa Utilities Board (IUB) will make their decision at the end of the year. The CHC line begins on the opposite bank of the Mississippi River, and must be approved by both states. Having worked as an editor in the State of Iowa and dealing with the IUB, I believe they will also approve it. My advice would be to write letters to the Dubuque Telegraph Heraldand to write, email and call the IUB. They are the last hope.

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