Two Wisconsin lawmakers are calling on federal officials to reexamine the impacts of a controversial power line on the Mississippi River and surrounding national refuge.
In separate letters, U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, and U.S. Rep. Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, questioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s plans to grant an easement through the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge for the Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line.
The high-voltage line would use 14 towers — up to 20 stories high — to carry wires along a 260-foot-wide corridor through the refuge from the Turkey River bottoms in Iowa to the site of a former power plant north of Cassville.
The project would disturb about 39 acres of the 240,000-acre refuge.
Baldwin said her primary concern is the harm to migratory birds and that the chosen route does not minimize the impacts.
“The final Environmental Impact Statement notes that the Fish and Wildlife Service did not have a preferred environmental alternative,” Baldwin wrote. “There were no route alternatives in the final selection that would have avoided the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife Refuge, so the managers of this natural resource were selecting among options with negative impacts.”
Kind noted the refuge’s status as an internationally recognized flyway for migratory birds and its popularity with the public, attracting more than 3.7 million visitors a year.
Kind called on the Fish and Wildlife Service to conduct a “full and fair analysis” of routes that don’t cut through the refuge.
“The purpose of Congress creating Refuges is to provide protection against development and incursions,” Kind wrote.
The Fish and Wildlife Service has determined the power line is a “compatible use” of the refuge, and the right-of-way permit is expected to be signed in the coming weeks.
Baldwin also addressed the Rural Utility Service, which has been asked to finance part of the $492 million project, a joint venture of American Transmission Company, ITC Midwest and Dairyland Power Cooperative, calling on the agency to examine alternatives.
“Stakeholders have questioned whether the RUS lending capacity should be prioritized for projects of more modest scale that may not have as much access to construction capital as this proposed line does,” Baldwin wrote. “Others point out that Rural Utilities Service funds were established in the spirit of cooperative use by rural communities acting in their local common good, and have expressed their anger that a program designed to support a good quality of life in rural communities could be used to construct a power line that many of those same communities oppose, and which could substantially reduce the value of land across the region on parcels near the power line and in the viewshed of the line.”
Construction of the line is scheduled to start in late 2021 pending the outcome of legal challenges to the Wisconsin Public Service Commission’s approval.
Attorneys for two groups that have sued to block the line recently wrote to the Fish and Wildlife Service over concerns about a bald eagle nest in Iowa County that is roughly 130 feet from the proposed route. Agency guidelines recommend a 660-foot buffer.
“No one wants the local farmers to find a dead bald eagle in their front yard or field,” the letter states. “But that becomes a real possibility if this line is built.”
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