State regulators on Friday gave power line contractors the go-ahead to resume construction on a portion of a high-voltage transmission line near La Crosse.
Construction work was halted last month after it was discovered that crews were building in an area where construction was barred for the nesting seasons of state-protected birds.
Crews working for Xcel Energy were mistakenly allowed to build in an area that was designated for no-construction activities, Xcel officials said earlier this week. The utility had told contractors that the area in question was a no-tree clearing zone, not a no-construction zone.
Follow-up inspections by wildlife biologists determined that several protected birds were in an area near the state-protected New Amsterdam Grasslands, an area preserved by the Mississippi Valley Conservancy.
An investigation by the state Department of Natural Resources found there were protected bird species along a one-mile stretch near the grasslands, and construction is still blocked from continuing in that area, according to Jeffrey Ripp, Public Service Committee gas and energy administrator.
Xcel and its partner utilities, including Dairyland Power Cooperative and WPPI Energy, will have to submit a new construction plan for state approval, Ripp said in a letter to the utilities Friday.
Ripp’s letter said the PSC was allowing construction to the south of the grasslands because “the Department of Natural Resources certified bird surveyor has found no protected bird species or their habitat along this portion of the route, and because DNR staff concurs that no adverse impacts to protected species are expected.”
The utilities are building a $500 million, 345,000-volt power line linking Rochester, Minn., and the La Crosse area.
The transmission line is part of an Upper Midwest initiative by Xcel and other utilities to increase reliability of the power grid and improve the flow of renewable energy, particularly wind power projects in Minnesota.
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