Last week, Wisconsin regulators held a series of public hearings on a proposed Badger-Coulee high-voltage transmission line to connect La Crosse and Madison. The hearings were the last opportunity for the public to testify in person before representatives of the PSC.
Phil Montgomery, the Chairman of the PSC was on hand at the Cashton Community Hall on Wednesday, Dec. 10, where it was standing room only as several hundred people listened in as the community spoke out against the project. Montgomery sat for hours as one-by-one people were sworn in by the administrative attorney Michael Newmark before providing individual statements in regards to the negative impact they foresee if the PSC deems the Badger Coulee transmission line project necessary and selects the southern route through Cashton for construction.
A joint venture of Xcel Energy and American Transmission Co., the 345-kilovolt Badger-Coulee line would run from a substation under construction on Briggs Road in Holmen to the outskirts of Madison. The transmission lines would follow one of two general routes through the Coulee Region. The northern route would run from Holmen to Black River Falls and along Interstate 94 corridor before angling toward Madison along Interstate 90. The Southern route would run east through Onalaska and West Salem in La Crosse County, before angling south toward Cashton in Monroe County, along Hwy. 33 to Interstate 90 near Madison.
Company officials have stated that the Badger Coulee line would improve system reliability, reduce the cost of power for Wisconsin consumers and provide a pipeline for wind energy from Minnesota and Iowa to populated areas to the east. Wisconsin ratepayers would pay a share of the estimated $540 million to $580 million price tag.
Since it was first proposed in 2010, opponents of the project have argued its necessity in a day and age when alternative forms of energy are growing in popularity and do not leave the carbon footprint of such a high profile project.
Save Our Unique Lands (SOUL), is one of several grassroots groups opposing the project. SOUL representative Rob Danielson read his statement to the PSC and provided documented facts on the extreme growth of alternative energy. He discussed the negative impacts of constructing the Badger Coulee transmission line, which he argues far outweighs any benefits of the proposed project. He said the project would adversely affect property/tax base evaluations and result in the loss of housing and agricultural development, plus tourism. Danielson is a strong advocate for developing alternative energy including wind and solar power, which dramatically lower home farm and business operation costs and slash carbon emissions.
“We are at a fork in the road. We need a louder PSC voice letting utilities know they don’t hold the magic card. We do not need the Badger-Coulee project at all,” Danielson said.
Kathy Kuderer operates “Down a County Road” located along Hwy. 33, east of Cashton. Her business works hand-in-hand with the large Amish residing in the area providing hundreds of tours annually of the Amish community.
Kuderer spoke on behalf of the Amish community who live a life free of electrical power and don’t want to be railroaded into having a huge transmission line towering over their properties. She said the Amish community provides valuable resources to an already depressed area and she fears the community will move if this project happens.
“Please look at the what is in the best interest of the public. Don’t destroy the pristine beauty of this area by routing this project through our Driftless area. You would be destroying so much more than just the land, but families and livelihoods too,” Kuderer said.
Gail Hoel lives in the brush Creek area near Ontario. They moved to the area eight years ago and live on a family farm. He supports the work of SOUL and said he has grave concerns if 345-volt transmission line is constructed in the area.
“We live in a very sensitive environmental area that it would be a crime to destroy it,” Hoel said.
Judy Hoel added that she loves the land and the more educated she becomes about the Driftless Region the more she knows that it should be left undisturbed.
Approximately 80-100 Amish were present in the Cashton Community Hall throughout the hearings. Farmer, Rudy Borntreger, spoke on behalf of the hundreds of Amish farms and nearly 500 families that comprise 13 church districts in the Cashton area. He expressed concerns about health and safety as well as the reasoning as to why they would even consider running the Badger-Coulee project through an area that does not rely on electricity to live.
“Our rural life allows us a closer communion with God. It is our sincere hope and wish to live in harmony with our neighbors, especially the English. We do not want to interfere with their lives and we know that many of them share our concerns about these proposed transmission lines. I hope the PSC says no to the unnecessary project” Borntreger said to a round of applause from the audience.
James Suppel said he can’t imagine the serene beauty of the area being destroyed by such a monstrosity. He told the PSC that if they move forward with the project he would need to pray for them, since they should find it hard to live with themselves for making such a grave decision to destroy a region of the state that was untouched by the glaciers and would now be destroyed by mankind.
Realtor Tom Simonson has lived in Cashton his entire life. He said the key to any land/property sale is location and that the Badger-Coulee project has already made it almost impossible for people to sell property anywhere along the proposed route once it is disclosed that the project might go through this area.
Shari Hawkins, who has lived on a hobby farm near Portland for 35 years said if the Badger-Coulee line is routed south it will loom right over her. She said the PSC should invest stop the entire project and invest that money into energy saving alternatives.
“The Driftless area should remain untouched. The ATC has put the cart before the horse. This is not a wise investment of my dollars,” Hawkins said.
The final fate of the Badger Coulee line will be decided by a three-member panel of the PSC, whose decision is expected in the spring of 2015. The PCS will first determine whether the project is necessary and serves in the public’s best interest. If the project is approved the panel will then select a route for the project based on all the information that was generated over the past few years.
The project has generated letters, comments and resolutions from about 100 units of government throughout the Coulee Region, which either opposed the project completely or took issue with the proposed routes in or near their communities. The PSC has since logged hundreds of public comments on the draft environmental review and will receive hundreds more before any final determination on the fate of the Badger Coulee project are finalized next spring. Concerned citizens can still submit written comments to the Public Service Commission through Jan. 5.
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