Wisconsin rules CapX 2020 app incomplete

From the Winona Post, February 9, 2011:

A portion of the proposed CapX2020 electric transmission lines that would connect Alma, Wis. to a substation near Holmen, Wis. hit a snag this week, after the Public Service Commission (PSC) of Wisconsin determined the lengthy application was incomplete. The PSC included dozens of detailed requirements for information and documents that need to be added to the application for the project to be considered, including areas in the application where environmental review was deemed insufficient, where greater information was needed, and where the utilities need to further explore the ways that efficiency programs might change electricity use projections.

Two possible routes have been proposed for this portion of the CapX2020 project. One would run along the Mississippi River from Alma, Wis., to the La Crosse area. The other would travel from Alma east to Arcadia and then south to La Crosse.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT) also released a letter to the PSC urging a more diligent study of the impact that the project might have on the Great River Road National Scenic Byway (GRRNSB) route. According to the letter, if one of two routes is chosen that would send the 150-foot towers along the GRRNSB, it is possible that portions of the scenic byway could be segmented or excluded as part of the byway program where the towers would be most visible. “Obviously, WisDOT is concerned that a potential gap could occur in the 250-mile Wisconsin segment,” states the letter from WisDOT Deputy Secretary Mike Berg. “This in turn would diminish the public value and decades of preservation and enhancement efforts of this major multi-state corridor and create a negative impression of Wisconsin when compared to the other ten states that the GRRNSB runs through.”

The letter also complains that the utilities consortium has not properly worked to avoid impacts to the GRRNSB, nor has it adequately recognized the public value of the scenic easements along the route. Additionally, the letter questions whether conservation easements in place now would allow for the erection of new transmission lines at all. And, if easements are granted for state owned land for the project, the letter says that the utility companies are going to have to compensate for each affected parcel, and those costs should be factored into the whole project, states the letter, “since this could affect its potential viability.”

Some of the additional information required by the PSC for consideration of the project includes:
•Information on what would be included with the estimated $5,000 per mile for agricultural protection and how the figure was estimated;
•Provide written documentation from the WisDOT and/or the Wisconsin Mississippi River Parkway Commission identifying the values that will be affected by this project along the GRRNSB route along with an explanation of the values identified;
•Include information about DNR owned or managed lands, including new easements or changes to existing easements necessary and information on how the project would affect the management plans for DNR properties;
•Provide satisfactory reports on endangered and threatened species, how the route could avoid rare bird nesting areas at the Amsterdam Grasslands Area owned by the Mississippi Valley Conservancy;
•Provide a table that summarizes where rare species or potentially suitable habitat for rare species occurs along each project route, and describe how the proposed project could be modified to avoid, minimize, or mitigate any potential adverse effect on the species;
•Identify state-designated trout streams and/or exceptional or outstanding waters for all areas adjacent to state designated waters, and describe the additional construction practices that would be employed to adequately protect the function of these streams;
•Provide construction options in areas where matting and ice roads may not be sufficient in wetland areas. If helicopter construction is an option, especially within the Black River Floodplain, include estimate costs;
•Identify locations where there is greater than 10 percent slope and include whether these areas are located near or in sensitive areas;
•Provide details on mitigation of construction impacts to agricultural areas including construction practices and recovery options;
•Document construction techniques for tree clearing along State Highway 35 Black River crossing; and
•Provide additional information regarding energy efficiency programs to satisfy the requirements of the Energy Priorities Law.

According to the PSC request for further information for the CapX2020 application, the list may grow as the state agencies review the project. Read the Winona Post in the coming weeks for more on the application process and project.

Power line report to be released in March

From the Winona Daily News, February 2, 2011:

A Minnesota study assessing the environmental impacts of new high-voltage power lines crossing the Mississippi River near Alma, Wis., will not be released until March, two months later than anticipated.

The draft environmental impact statement will assess the Minnesota portion of a proposed $450 million transmission project stretching from Hampton, Minn., to La Crosse, Wis.

State officials had said the draft statement would be released late this month, but that work is taking longer than anticipated, and the document is now slated to be released March 21, according to recently released state documents.

Additional time is required to prepare the draft EIS due to the number of route alternatives developed during the public scoping process and the resulting evaluation of impacts and mitigation measures,” according to a letter from the Minnesota Office of Energy Security. 

The proposed CapX2020 project includes 120 to 145 miles of 345-kilovolt lines and a 10-acre substation in Onalaska, Wis.

But at least two groups have been ardently battling the Minnesota portions of the plans, filing legal challenges aiming at slowing down the project.  Officials with those groups have pointed to the environmental studies as possible source of future disputes.

Wisconsin and federal officials are both also working on separate environmental impact statements on the project, but those documents are expected to be delayed as well and likely will not be released by May, according to the Minnesota Office of Energy Security letter.