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August 16, 2022

9/22/2016 1:37:00 PM
Chicago environmental law group tours potential power line routes in Iowa County

by Denise Thornton and Doug Hansmann

On Monday a busload of two dozen Chicagoans toured some of the most scenic spots in Iowa County, but these were no ordinary tourists. They were board members and staff of the Environmental Law and Policy Center (ELPC), a major Midwest public interest environmental legal advocacy and eco-business innovation organization.
Their route took them along the two proposed corridors for the American Transmission Company (ATC) high voltage power line.
ELPC's staff of attorneys, policy advocates, finance advisors, communications experts and organizers take on issues concerning climate change, clean energy, clean air, clean water, transportation and special places of environmental interest. It is the last category that brought them to southwest Wisconsin.
Working with the Driftless Area Land Conservancy (DALC), a 15-year old Dodgeville-based land trust that has helped protect 6,000 acres of natural land from development, ELPC opposes the installation of the proposed high-voltage line that would carry electricity between Dubuque County, Iowa and Middleton, Wisconsin, adding about 500 steel towers to the landscape of southwest Wisconsin, each one standing 10 to 15 stories tall. The proposed line is slated to pass through some of Iowa County's most fragile environments and places of great natural beauty.
The tour began at Brigham County Park looking out over the countryside beyond.
"The Driftless Area is an area where continental glaciers over the past two million years never touched the landscape," explained David Clutter, executive director of DALC to the tour group.
ATC has proposed two possible routes for the transmission lines, which were marked in blue on the maps handed to the ELPC staff, board members and guests.
"This whole landscape is a very special place, but the transmission lines would come right through," said Clutter, "either on the north side of Brigham Park or the south side."
Mark Mittelstadt, a forester and DALC board member added, "We have heard a height of 150 feet for the power lines. The trees are about 75 feet tall, so the transmission towers would be standing well above the top of the woodlands."
Howard Learner, executive director of ELPC, noted that The Nature Conservancy, a leading global conservation organization, has named the Military Ridge Prairie Heritage Area (95,000 acres of grassland landscape in Dane and Iowa counties) a priority area to protect because it provides habitat for declining species. With more than 60 prairie remnants, it is one of the highest concentrations of native grasslands left in the Midwest.
This area has also been identified as the highest priority for landscape-scale grassland protection and management in Wisconsin by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and represents one of the best opportunities in the Midwest to protect prairie remnants and area-sensitive species, such as grassland birds.
The tour continued along State Highway 18-151, one of the two possible routes for the transmission line. Clutter pointed out that there are conservancy easements on both sides of that route. With prairie remnants being protected on the south side of the highway and the DNR Military Ridge State Trail to the north, a 40-mile rails-to-trails project that connects Dodgeville to Madison. The trail runs along the southern borders of Governor Dodge and Blue Mound state parks passing by agricultural lands, woods, wetlands and prairies.
The tour traveled north on County Road Z, where the power lines could potentially run, and stopped to hear from a resident, Betsy D'Angelo. D'Angelo and her husband built their home in the 1980s and own several hundred acres.
"With the tornado that hit two years ago," D'Angelo told the tour, "four buildings were flattened; my garage needed a roof. My house needed a roof. In my 100-acre woods, 80 percent of the trees went down. The point is, I thought, aside from death and illness of those we love, that I could never have such a disaster again, and then I got this letter from ATC.
"It's a worse disaster than the tornado.," she continued. "The woods is a heartbreak, but it will grow back over time. But those towers don't belong here. If I knew it was happening for a public good, I would try to deal with it. But the more I read, the more it seems it's not necessary and its a business venture, and it breaks my heart."
Driving along County Highway T, the bus passed over Lowery Creek, another area that would be affected by the transmission lines. Lowery Creek is part of the Wyoming Valley Conservation Opportunity Area designated by the Wisconsin DNR to protect species and their habitats.
"Lowery Creek is used by the DNR as one of three nursery creeks in the Driftless Area to supply trout to other streams," Clutter told the group. "It may soon be reclassified by the DNR as a Class 1 stream and an exceptional waterway. It's a special place."
As the tour continued, Clutter said, "This is part of the Wisconsin River Valley. In the fall cranes will come here. On one island there may be a thousand cranes. The transmission lines raise concern about migrating birds like the cranes."
Clutter added another concern.
"If the transmission line goes over agricultural land, farmers can continue farming, but if it's going over forested land that ATC needs to cut, then that area needs to be kept cleared, so every now and then they will have to come in and spray herbicides in what may be environmentally sensitive areas."
The ELPC chooses one of its projects each year for board members to tour, and this year the Driftless Area was the area they chose to focus on.
"We have been looking at the Driftless Area for over three years," said Knute Nadelhoffer, a member of the ELPC Science Advisory Council and Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Michigan. "We had identified this as a unique area ecologically, biologically, geologically and culturally."
The ELPC has a history of successfully protecting environmentally-threatened areas throughout the Midwest. Last-minute work in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest in northern Wisconsin helped get a court order in 2003 to halt accelerated logging and protect 22,000 acres of forestland.
Clutter is hopeful the partnership between the Driftless Area Land Conservancy and the ELPC will help protect our area.
"There is a lot going on in this area. Most people wouldn't think of putting a power line across the Grand Canyon, so why would we think of putting one through one of the most most beautiful and unique landscapes in the Upper Midwest. We have a national treasure in the Driftless Area, and we should treat it like one."

Reader Comments

Posted: Monday, July 10, 2017
Article comment by: Laura Harreld

Hello, my husband and I are driving from Milwaukee to our home in Strawberry Point, IA, today, July 10, 2017, and saw surveyors out in the prairies near hey 151. I looked up the possible reason for the surveyor work, and discovered that there is a possibility that a series of huge power towers may be constructed there.
That would be awful to see in this beautiful landscape!
I hope the plans for construction and destruction in this area will be halted.
Laura Harreld
Strawberry Point, IA

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