$500 mln power line construction in refuge would harm wildlife - judge

3 minute read

REUTERS/Pawel Kopczynski

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  • Construction through refuge could split wildlife habitat
  • Environmental review improperly "whittle[d] away" less environmentally damaging alternatives
  • Judge asks parties to suggest appropriate remedy

(Reuters) - A federal judge in Wisconsin has ruled that the planned construction of a segment of a $500 million power line that would cut through a wildlife refuge risks threatening various species meant to thrive in the protected area.

The Friday ruling by U.S. District Judge William Conley in Madison represents a setback for the Cardinal-Hickory Creek Transmission Line Project, a planned 102-mile Iowa-to-Wisconsin power line that its joint developers, the American Transmission Co LLC, ITC Midwest LLC and Dairyland Power Cooperative, have been building in areas outside the refuge, which is located in both states, since last year.

Conley also held that because the above-ground transmission line's route cuts through the middle of the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, it would scar its scenic qualities and wild character, contrary to its stated purpose and to the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act, Conley said.

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The judge also concluded that the federal agencies that measured the project's environmental impacts statement improperly "whittle[d] away" alternatives less environmentally damaging than a power line.

The environmental groups that sued several federal agencies last year argued, among other things, that such alternatives including using batteries to store solar power should have been considered when measuring the project's environmental footprint.

Wyn Hornbuckle, a spokesperson with the Department of Justice, declined to comment.

The project's developers said in a statement that the ruling "has no immediate impact" on their ability to continue most of their construction activities. Conley temporarily prohibited construction work on another, small portion of the Wisconsin segment of the line in November located along wetlands. The developers have appealed that decision.

The companies say the power line will improve the electric grid's reliability, and that it is scheduled to come into service in December 2023.

Howard Learner, an attorney for the plaintiffs, including the Driftless Area Land Conservancy, said in a statement that the developers should "pause, step back and consider better alternatives."

Conley has asked the parties to suggest a remedy by Jan. 24.

The case is National Wildlife Refuge Association v. Rural Utilities Service, U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin, No. 3:21-cv-00096.

For National Wildlife Refuge Association et al: Howard Learner of the Environmental Law & Policy Center

For Rural Utilities Service et al: Andrew Smith and Jacob Ecker with the U.S. Department of Justice

For American Transmission Co, ITC Midwest and Dairyland Power Co-op: Thomas Jensen of Perkins Coie

Read more:

Judge delays construction on parts of $500 mln U.S. power line

Enviros sue Corps over $500 mln Wisconsin-to-Iowa power line

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Thomson Reuters

New York-based correspondent covering environmental, climate and energy litigation.