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Wisconsin residents seek to preserve Driftless Area

A grain wagon supports a sign along Highway 18-151 near Ridgeway. Signs against the proposed 345-kilovolt Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line are prolific along both routes proposed by American Transmission Co. of Pewaukee, ITC Midwest of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and Dairyland Power Cooperative of La Crosse.

A series of public meetings on a controversial southwestern Wisconsin power line proposal has been rescheduled and the deadline for comments extended as a result of the recent federal government shutdown.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture will host meetings March 13-20 to hear comments on its environmental review of the high-voltage line known as Cardinal-Hickory Creek, which would connect Dubuque, Iowa, and Middleton.

The USDA’s Rural Utilities Service, which is overseeing the federal review of the line, released a draft environmental impact statement on Dec. 7 and had meetings scheduled for January. Those meetings were canceled by a 35-day government shutdown, the longest in U.S. history.

The USDA has extended the deadline to submit comments until April 1 and will hold meetings in Dodgeville, Barneveld, Cassville and Middleton as well as the Iowa communities of Guttenberg and Petosa.

Copies of the environmental impact statement are available at public libraries along the proposed route or on the USDA website.

The proposed 345-kilovolt line, which would be owned by American Transmission Co., ITC Midwest and Dairyland Power Cooperative, has generated widespread opposition. A record number of individuals, groups and local governments — including Dane County — have received permission to take part in the state permitting process.

The project owners and some clean-energy groups say the line will help deliver low-cost wind energy from Iowa, save Wisconsin ratepayers between $23.5 million and $350 million over the next 40 years, and “create numerous other reliability and public policy benefits.”

Opponents, including conservation and environmental groups, say Wisconsin ratepayers would be better served by cheaper alternatives to the $500 million project.

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Data journalist for the Wisconsin State Journal. Covers energy and transportation, among other things. Rhymes with Lubbock. Contact him at 608-252-6146.