April 19, 2024 at 10:55 a.m.

Why did we take a stand?

Dear Editor,

As the executive director of the Driftless Area Land Conservancy (DALC), I have been asked why DALC and the citizens of southwest Wisconsin continue to fight the Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line. To answer this, let’s go back to why hundreds of landowners and residents called on us to take a stand in the first place. 

When we all learned of this project in 2015, we needed to know if this transmission line was necessary and if so, is it being sited and installed the right way, with the least environmental impact? Our mission, after all, is to maintain and enhance the health, diversity, and beauty of southwest Wisconsin’s natural and agricultural landscapes. Our research, posted for all to review on our website, showed that we could achieve clean energy goals in Wisconsin without a brand new line. We also wanted to ensure that the right questions were being asked, not just about cost in dollars, but deferred costs like the cost to agricultural productivity, cultural resources, and environmental resources. As the court has found, the right questions were not asked. 

From the beginning, the transmission line developers have manipulated the process to push through the project that they wanted rather than the project that was needed. Their scheme for crossing the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge is only the latest example of their approach. Federal Judge William Conley in 2022 called their plan to continue to build based on the illegal route through the Refuge an “orchestrated train wreck.” He was right. For the last decade, the line’s developers were warned by regulatory authorities, governing bodies, and the courts, to find another route outside the Refuge to complete the line. Instead of heeding these warnings, the transmission line companies followed their plan and continued to build the entire route right up to the edges of the Refuge. 

The more investment sunk into the project by the time questions are asked or the court system catches up, the harder it is to stop building. After all, they say, since we’ve already gone this far, it would be financially irresponsible to stop, right? 

So here we are at the last two miles – which are set to go through the Refuge. They claim a land exchange deal they struck with the Fish and Wildlife Service – essentially an attempted end-run around federal law – is the best option, but they did not even consider any route outside of the Refuge. The transmission line companies should not be allowed to get away with this because it sets a dangerous precedent for the future preservation of all National Wildlife Refuges. The Refuge system provides essential habitats for fish and wildlife to flourish, fosters biodiversity, and offers magnificent land for people to enjoy outdoor recreation today and for generations to come.

The future health of our environment is central to Driftless Area Land Conservancy’s mission, and the development of clean energy alternatives is imperative. We can build a transmission system with smart siting that truly engages local communities and governments to optimize for environmental, agricultural, health, and other values, in addition to profitability. But to do so we must have a process where all voices are not only heard, but truly considered in the design of our transmission system. This is why we, and other conservation groups, continue to hold this line’s developers accountable in our lawsuit that is moving forward in Federal Court. With better planning, this “last mile” standoff could have been avoided, and we could have been spending all of these resources on a better route, or alternative options that don’t even require a brand new transmission line. 

Those more complex and less profitable options were hardly given lip service. Let’s look beyond our own backyards and set a better precedent for our future.  

Jennifer Filipiak, 

Executive Director, 

Driftless Area Land Conservancy