Driftless Area Land Conservancy

Join your friends and neighbors in opposing Cardinal-Hickory Creek

American Transmission Company and its partners ITC and Dairyland Power Cooperative have proposed a massive 125-mile transmission line project that would run from Middleton, WI to Dubuque, IA. The Cardinal-Hickory Creek line is ENVIRONMENTALLY DESTRUCTIVE, NOT NEEDED, EXPENSIVE TO RATEPAYERS and OUTDATED. Help us prevent this dinosaur-aged technology from ruining the beautiful Driftless Area.

Click here to see the final CHC route proposed by the PSC. The route is in blue.

Let’s demand something better for Southwest Wisconsin. Read below to learn more about how DALC has been working to oppose this transmission line and how you can get involved. A clean, renewable energy future is possible. We do not need to destroy a large track of the nationally significant Driftless Region to provide a forward-thinking energy future for Wisconsin.

Our expert witnesses have said it best. Read their full testimonies below.

“There are multiple options before us—ways to conserve and to develop clean and sustainable energy—that can serve the Driftless Area and all the landscapes beyond it. We must strive together for energy solutions that do not sacrifice other conservation goals and degrade the quality of our land. The decision on this proposed powerline is a test. It will show if we as a society are willing to resist the easy path of expediency and short-term profit. It will show that we can do the hard and necessary thing: meeting current needs in innovative ways that also and simultaneously protect the quality of the land that sustains us.” – Curt Meine, Conservation Biologist, Environmental Historian, Writer, Adjunct Faculty at UW-Madison and Senior Fellow with the Center for Humans and Nature.

CHC – Right-of-Ways & Easements for Landowners

Land owners on the Cardinal-Hickory Creek route:

You will be contacted by the developers.  How you respond will affect the disposition of your land now and on into the future.

We strongly suggest you don’t sign anything until you’ve consulted an attorney and/or land appraiser.

Helpful Details

  • Driftless Area Land Conservancy (DALC), Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, Iowa County and others are appealing the decision of the Public Service Commission. If successful in the courts, this project will be stopped or postponed.   Federal permitting and other processes are also continuing.
  • Even as the appeals and other processes move forward at the Federal level, the developers – ITC, ATC and others – are contacting individual landowners to begin the easement-signing process.
  • You have rights with respect to your land! You Do Not Have to Sign any documents as presented. It’s strongly advised that you consult with an attorney regarding the contract and any other requests by the transmission company or their agents.
  • The developers’ agents will likely ply you with many misleading or partially false reasons to sign such as:
  • It’s to the landowner’s advantage and will be easier to sign early.
  • The neighbors are all signing up.
  • Bonuses are available for early signers. Don’t Take the Bait!  We strongly suggest you make no decisions until you’ve learned more through an attorney, land appraiser of other resources.

NOTE:  In similar situations, some landowners have been awarded much more by a court than was offered by the transmission company.


“Rights-of-Ways and Easements for Electrical Facility Construction in Wisconsin” by the Wisconsin PSC

It contains more information about what an easement is and your rights. The document is not short, but it does have a table of contents that you can use to help navigate. Here are a few highlights:

  • An easement between a transmission owner and a landowner is a legal contract that allows the transmission owner to build and maintain the power line.  It sets forth the rights of the transmission company and the landowner with respect to the property.
  • Any easement will run with the land and impact future landowners.
  • In a typical negotiation, a transmission owner’s agent presents a landowner with a draft easement and an estimate of the value of the Right of Way (ROW) it wants to purchase. The landowner has the right to negotiate both the terms and the amount to be paid.
  • The landowner has the right to have his or her own appraisal made by a qualified appraiser. The reasonable cost of this appraisal must be reimbursed by the transmission owner if: (1) it is submitted to the utility within 60 days after receipt of the utility’s appraisal; and (2) it meets the standards under Wisconsin law.
  • There is nothing barring one landowner along a proposed transmission route from discussing easement concerns with other landowners before signing.
  • Landowners have certain rights under the law that they do not have to waive.  The document lists these. However, the transmission company may still ask you to waive these rights. Look for items that are crossed out or specified as “waived.”


Find the full text  here: https://psc.wi.gov/Documents/Brochures/Right-of-Ways%20and%20Easements%20for%20Electric%20Facility%20Construction%20In%20Wisconsin.pdf

Best wishes with your property negotiations.  We’re convinced that we’re on the right side of this issue and plan to prevail in the end.

DALC Board Joins Appeal of PSC Decision on Cardinal-Hickory Creek

August 23, 2019

Driftless Area Land Conservancy Board of Directors Voted to Appeal Wisconsin PSC’s Decision Approving Huge Unnecessary High-Voltage Transmission Line that Will Permanently Damage the Driftless Area

There Are Better Clean Energy Solutions and Alternatives for Wisconsin

The Driftless Area Land Conservancy’s Board of Directors voted to authorize the appeal of the Public Service Commission’s preliminary decision, if finalized, to approve the proposed Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line. This massive transmission line is not needed for reliability, and it would cut a wide swath through the scenic Driftless Area’s vital natural resources and communities.  

The Board of Directors voted in favor of appealing the PSC’s decision because the Commissioners:

  1. disregarded the expert energy and natural resources witnesses’ testimony presented by the Driftless Area Land Conservancy and Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, as well as others, in opposition to the proposed transmission line and in support for better clean energy alternatives; 
  2. ignored the virtually unanimous bipartisan opposition of state legislators, counties and many municipalities in Southwest Wisconsin; and 
  3. overrode the overwhelming public opposition of community members, farm groups, conservation organizations and businesses who appeared at public hearings and submitted online comments against this unneeded and destructive proposed transmission line.  

The Driftless Area Land Conservancy plans to join the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation and others in seeking judicial review in the courts.


Articles and Useful Links

DALC Appeal to Iowa County Circuit Court (PDF)

DALC-WWF Federal Court Complaint (PDF)

Spencer Black: Cardinal-Hickory Creek proposal is a choice between people and profit

Tia Nelson: Proposed high-voltage transmission line is the wrong energy future for Wisconsin Cap Times Editorial

'Once it's built, there's no going back': Public gives input on ATC transmission line before PSC Wisconsin Public Radio 

Cardinal-Hickory Creek: Wisconsin residents speak out against proposed power line Wisconsin State Journal

Lancaster hearing highlights opposition to proposed transmission line Dubuque Telegraph Herald

Farmers, Residents Of Southwestern Wisconsin Voice Concerns About Proposed Transmission Line Channel 3000

Final set of public hearings over transmission line proposal NBC 15 News

Proposed power line project gets public hearing in Madison WKOW Channel 27

Spencer Black: Proposed ATC project threatens peace, productivity in Driftless region

Cardinal-Hickory Creek line threatens Driftless tourism The Capitol Times LTE

High Hopes: Opponents of ATC's huge towers are optimistic that this time will be different (Isthmus, April 25, 2019)

Tammy Baldwin calls for "meaningful analysis" of alternatives to high voltage power line

1998 law to speed approval of utility projects creates challenge in controversial power line case

David Clutter and George Meyer: ATC power line slows transition to low-carbon future

Cardinal-Hickory Creek: Regulators say consumers could pay if power line project scrapped

Power line opponents assemble 'a-plus team' to question needs, benefits

Plain Talk: Take a careful look at necessity, cost and impact of huge transmission project

Cardinal-Hickory Creek: Dozens of citizens, groups allowed to participate in power line review

Power line opponents pan draft review of Dubuque-Middleton transmission project

Fighting for views and livelihoods in the Driftless Area

Wisconsin regulators accept Cardinal-Hickory Creek application, start clock on review of high-voltage power line

Community concerned that new power lines would cut through conservation areas

The grid to nowhere: An argument against building giant transmission lines

Towering transmission line in western Wisconsin sparks questions over need and nearly half-billion-dollar cost

Utility companies file first application for Middleton-Dubuque transmission line

Southern Wisconsin lawmakers urge scrutiny of Madison-Dubuque high-voltage power line

A favored route is picked for a high-voltage transmission line from Middleton to Dubuque

Battle lines widen as plans progress for high-powered transmission line between Madison and Iowa

Another chance for public comments on proposed Middleton-Dubuque transmission line

On Wisconsin: Uplands Cheese, Martha Stewart and worry over high-powered transmission lines

Keep the Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line out of Wisconsin's Driftless Area, opponents say





General Information:

img_3657Construction of a huge, expensive new high capacity transmission powerline is being planned by the American Transmission Co. (ATC). This line would damage a 125 mile swath of the unique driftless area of Southwest Wisconsin and commit rate-payers to higher monthly bills for years to come.

The proposed corridors lie completely within the Driftless Area, the Midwest’s most unique eco-region and special scenic landscape. This area is recognized internationally and by the Departments of Natural Resources in four states as a region of critical conservation opportunity and concern. It contains multiple rare habitats and is the largest contiguous area of fish and wildlife habitat in the Upper Mississippi River basin area.

The mission of the Driftless Area Land Conservancy (DALC) is to maintain and enhance the health, diversity and beauty of Southwest Wisconsin’s natural and agricultural landscape. This proposed new high capacity powerline severely threatens the heart of the Driftless Area negatively impacting the three qualities DALC is mandated to preserve. Therefore, after thorough investigation, DALC has concluded it must oppose the construction of this powerline.

Powerline Proposal Details

• Cardinal-Hickory Creek (CHC) would be a high-voltage 345kV transmission line supported by 17-story tall towers.

• It would run 125 miles from the Cardinal substation in Middleton, WI to the Hickory Creek Substation in Dubuque, IA.

• It’s estimated to cost at least $500 million plus financing costs with a mandated 10.2% ($50 million or more) annual rate of return for the developers. These costs would be borne by the ratepayers over the anticipated 30-40 yr. lifetime of the line.

• ATC profits solely on the construction and maintenance of powerlines whether they are needed or not. They have every incentive to simply build new infrastructure regardless of need.

Rationale for Opposition:

Supply exceeds demand in the Wisconsin electrical power market. Madison Gas & Electric’s electrical sales have declined over the past decade and Wisconsin Power & Light’s sales have remained essentially flat over the same time period even though both utilities have each gained about 11,000 net additional customers. New wind and gas plants have already been approved that will provide energy and local jobs. ATC has not demonstrated a need for additional imported out-of-state electrical supply to be carried by this proposed line.
Even if there were any need for more electricity supply, there are better, more cost-effective alternatives than building this costly new high-voltage transmission line. Wisconsin law requires that energy demands first be met with the most cost-effective options including energy efficiency and conservation. This proposed expensive line does not meet those criteria. Additionally, peak-demand energy needs can be better met through increased energy efficiency, distributed energy demand response, and solar energy. Peak energy demands cannot be met by the mixture of coal and wind generated electricity that this line would carry.
ATC has proposed multiple corridor options for the CHC transmission line, many of which are inconsistent with Wisconsin transmission siting laws. State law clearly intends that transmission avoid unnecessary impacts to the environment including natural and cultural resources and that new routes be created only as a last resort. The proposed line routes conflict with this intent. The unique features of the Driftless Area make trying to find corridors that comply with applicable statutes akin to trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, concepts that are inherently mismatched.
Departments of Natural Resources have identified the Driftless Area in Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin as the most important ecological region in the Midwest. The proposed corridors plow through environmentally sensitive areas, those specifically designated to be avoided under Wisconsin law. The proposed massive infrastructure of towers and lines would damage these historical and natural resources and disrupt the scenic landscapes that are part of our heritage and draw others to our area as well.
The proposed transmission line is a “black cloud” that reduces property values, impairs conservation easements to protect lands, and stalls rural economic development. High-voltage transmission lines have a significant negative impact on property values. Additionally, ATC’s decision to delay the in-service date of the CHC line until 2023 exacerbates this problem. Land owners and buyers are reluctant to make commitments to potential land sales, property improvements and conservation projects because of uncertainties about future property values.

DALC’s Response

The DALC Board of Directors has retained the services of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, a highly reputable Midwest non-profit environment and natural heritage law firm to guide and assist DALC in developing and carrying out a strategy to inform the public and Wisconsin policy makers of the negative impacts inherent in this proposed project.  DALC has also hired a community organizer to coordinate its efforts to prevent the construction of the Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line.

Wider Community's Response

It’s becoming increasingly clear to conservation groups, businesses, and municipalities that this proposal is a bad idea.  It will not serve the public’s best interests nor promote the health, beauty and diversity of the Driftless Area.  Numerous groups have expressed opposition and many have formally passed Opposition Resolutions including many municipalities, conservation organizations, businesses and school districts.  These resolutions have been submitted to the Wisconsin Public Service Commission as opposition across Southwest Wisconsin continues to grow.

Moving Forward

Concerned individuals and organizations such as Driftless Defenders, Western Dane Preservation Campaign and SOUL of Wisconsin are coming together to oppose this expensive, unnecessary powerline expansion.  A strong, united voice will be needed to convince decision-makers this project does not serve the best interests of our communities. Our opposition coalition continues to grow and we welcome you to be a part of it. 

For more information - Please contact Chuck Tennessen: charles@driftlessconservancy.org 

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