The Driftless Area is the Midwest’s premier biodiversity hotspot, covering the ancient landscape surrounding the Mississippi River as it flows through northern Illinois, western Wisconsin, eastern Minnesota and eastern Iowa.
The area contains a high concentration of unique topographical and geological features, like hundreds of rare cold-water tributary streams that flow in and out of porous limestone “karst” rock formations and into the Mississippi River. Because of that unique geology, the Driftless Area contains dozens of uncommon species of reptiles, amphibians and plants, with abundant populations of native fish. The region plays a critical role as a rest and feeding stop for more than half of North America’s bird species, forming the largest contiguous area of fish and wildlife habitat remaining in the central United States.
The Driftless Area, like other special natural places, is under threat from development and resultant habitat fragmentation and degradation, pollution, the spread of invasive alien species and climate change. If action is not taken soon, many native species and ecosystems will disappear.
What is ELPC Doing?
ELPC is representing the Driftless Area Land Conservancy (DALC) in a campaign against a proposed new high voltage transmission line that would run from Dubuque County, Iowa to Middleton, Wisconsin, just west of Madison. This new power line would cross the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge near Cassville, Wisconsin, and then cut a swath through the Driftless Area of southwest Wisconsin, a unique and scenic landscape. The Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line, proposed by the American Transmission Company (ATC), Iowa Transmission Company (ITC), and Dairyland Power Cooperative, would feature towers up to 17 stories tall, negatively affect many special natural resource areas in Wisconsin, including the Military Ridge Prairie Heritage Area, Governor Dodge State Park, Military Ridge State Trail, Dodgeville and Wyoming Oak Woodlands/Savanna Conservation Opportunity Area, the Pecatonica State Trail, and the Ice Age State Trail. It would have broad-reaching adverse effects, from impacts on endangered species to tourism to farming operations to property values.
ELPC is working to show decision-makers and stakeholders that this huge new high voltage transmission line is not needed. In fact, electricity demand in southwest and central Wisconsin and points eastward is flat or declining, according to utility filings. Further, even if there was a need for electricity in the area, it could be better and more efficiently met through energy efficiency, demand management, distributed generation, storage, and local renewable energy resources, which would provide local jobs and support the local economy.
Most recently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS) released a draft environmental impact statement in December, 2018. RUS was federally mandated to consider alternatives, but they only focused on equally destructive high-transmission line pathways through the treasured Driftless area, choosing not to explore lower-voltage, underground, or non-transmission options. ELPC will be submitting comprehensive public comments to the agency, but the public is also encouraged to submit comments before Feb. 5, 2019.