A sample of letters written by Vermont citizens on various topics to different agencies and businesses.
January 2, 2017
Thank you for this opportunity for us to provide our comments on the environmental impact of the American Tranmission Company (ATC) Cardinal Hickory Creek (CHC) project.
IMPACT ON DRIFTLESS ECOLOGY
Per US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), it is estimated that 97% of listed species throughout the Driftless Area in Wisconsin live on private lands. Without involvement of landowners, the obstacles to successful conservation management are huge. Landowners make this conservation possible. (Joanna Gilkeson, USFWS) For nearly three decades, our land has been a private wildlife sanctuary, providing habitat protection in an internationally recognized, unique landscape, the irreplaceable Driftless Area. This private wildlife sanctuary provides habitat for bobolinks and other ground nesting birds who depend on safe grassland space and safe airspace, and we have spent years enriching their habitat to promote the success of their fledglings. Among other habitat observations, milkweed (possibly even purple milkweed) and diverse butterfly populations have increased. Part of our habitat restoration plan has been to eliminate herbicide and pesticide application. Another aspect of our habitat restoration plan for this wildlife sanctuary has been to add to it with neighboring acres, when given the opportunity. We did so in keeping with our active conservation efforts for the unique habitats in the driftless area of Wisconsin. It has been a challenge to simultaneously support conservation efforts with the agricultural needs of a local farm family whose small herd depends on the harvest from this land, but we make the acres they need available as long as their need continues. To balance acreage use in agriculture, we set aside areas to remain undisturbed, and undisturbed perimeter vegetation is a vital aspect of our wildlife conservation. It has been maintained to provide, among other benefits, perches for feeding fledgelings, to preserve important wildlife food sources, and also as shading and windbreak. ATC would completely remove this actively living perimeter, replacing it with a massive physical barrier, deterring the wildlife we have encouraged for decades, and adding risks of compounding electromagnetic radiation, stray voltage, and electrocution. The wall of wires would be just at the level of the flight of Sandhill cranes, some of which return to this hilltop annually. This private wildlife sanctuary includes branching v-shaped valleys, key to the Driftless Area, and the undisturbed perimeter vegetation would not only be replaced by a wall of wires, but regrowth would be supressed by endless herbicide use. The runoff into delicate ecosystems of the valleys, possibly karst landscapes, would be devastating. Ecological Landscapes of Wisconsin, a Department of Natural Resources (DNR) publication, indicates that specialsurveys are still needed to locate and identify the unmapped unique slopes andcliffs of the Driftless Area.We have enriched the habitat of other birds, in particular barn swallows,observing and responding to their needs. We are witness to generations ofbobolinks, swallows and goldfinches, to name just a few of the diverse birdspecies thriving here. Their success depends on open spaces with welcomingvegetation. This community is perfectly suited for encouraging Driftless AreaWisconsin wildlife. Grouse and Whip-poor-will can be heard here regularly.Other birds we have seen include Common Nighthawks, Pileated Woodpeckers,Eastern Meadowlarks and Western Meadowlarks, and we have heard the songof what we believe may be the Henslow’s Sparrow. This acreage is part of arural neighborhood of ridge and valley, where wildlife can thrive away from thebarriers of nocturnal noise, excessive light and the certain death of highwaycollision. Transmission lines are incompatible with this wildlife habitat, and theywould cause irreparable, permanent destruction and permanent wildlife habitatfragmentation.We welcome impartial ecologist scientists to spend time with us here, to see theecological richness of this acreage from direct observation on the ground. Fornearly three decades, we have walked or hiked in snowshoes on the perimeterand throughout this land each and every day, mostly twice a day. Over thisperiod, we have directly observed rich, diverse wildlife activity, and if ecology wasour profession, the three short months we have been given to provide RuralUtility Service (RUS) and SWCA our comments might have been enough time tooffset the argument ATC has given you that this sanctuary, still relatively free ofpermanent human barriers, can be sacrificed. This land provides a sorelyneeded opportunity to reduce habitat fragmentation and isolation and to increaseecological connectivity, a stated DNR consideration (PUB-SS-1131X 2015).Could it be, that despite the undoubtedly unique habitat of the Driftless Area,despite our active committment to habitat protection, and the very clearWisconsin siting law specifications, the smaller number of people along this pathwho would object to confiscating our land makes us the easier target?
IMPACT ON CULTURE
Ridgetops of this neighborhood are in a community of people who actively valuedriftless ecology. It is the objective of the Town of Vermont to recognize andrespect the natural environment as an irreplaceable resource. The culture ofcitizens of Town of Vermont is reflected in a Comprehensive Plan to make “landusedecisions that respect the rights of landowners while preserving andenhancing those qualities that make the town a special place to live and work.”This Plan has the explicit goal of protecting the environment, including a detailedRidgetop Protection Plan (see 10.4 Ridgetop Protection). A massive wall of high voltage wires across large tracts of ridgetop Wisconsin Driftless area land in andbeyond Town of Vermont, in sites free of highways or high buildings, wouldflagrantly disrespect the culture of this community. Per the Town of VermontComprehensive Land Use Plan, structures are to be designed and located sothey are compatible with their surroundings, and our community members areheld to this standard.Even during this planning stage for CHC, our neighborhood is deeply affected byATC’s threat of degrading this beloved land. We all have responsibilities to ourprofessions as well as to our families. The upheaval of likely land seizure, of landcondemnation, the very land so dear to people in the Town of Vermont, is alreadyleaving a long-lasting, damaging impact to this human environment. Shouldn’tthis be a key feature of an environmental impact statement?
During a scoping meeting conversation, an engineer from RUS cavalierly statedthat CHC will not bring electricity to this community, it is destined for Chicago.We have family in Chicago, and we would not wish to deprive them or anyone ofelectricity. It is disingenuous to say that urban centers need electricitytransmitted for hundreds of miles, destroying Driftless ecology to get there.Electricity can be generated and distributed much, much closer to urban centers.We very much doubt such a project would be proposed without the guaranteedsubsidy, the 10 percent donation, of ratepayers.This ecological damage to the Driftless Community is not necessary.Improvements and new developments in renewable electricity generation andstorage are fast becoming available to all communities at whatever scalenecessary. Just one example, on this single Dane County hilltop, there is wind topower a turbine, documented by a wind study we obtained during the planningstage of our conservation plan to provide enough power for us and ourneighborhood. However, given the legal obstacles (which could be easy toremove) greatly favoring large over small scale, we had to abandon that plan.Lake Michigan winds can power turbines (wind and wave), and there are a fewrooftops in Chicago.When we told an SWCA employee at the scoping meeting that we very muchcare about providing our community with renewable electricity, having installedsolar panels, we were dismissed as unusual, since “other people do not have thesame resources” which is not true. This is about values and about how wechoose to use our limited resources. If the same millions were guaranteed to anycommunity (including Chicago) as they are to ATC, we would have a sufficient,reliable and catastrophe-resisting grid. Why would there be limits orimpediments to public citizens or small business owners who, like us, want tocontribute to the local grid? An impartial cost-to-benefit analysis, comparing full promotion and rewarding of community participation (including - as just oneexample - the involvement of farmers - providing them with incentives for manuredigestors, solar panels, wind turbines), would inevitably compare favorably, ifgiven an identical multiyear effort and a multimillion investment with a guaranteedreturn on the investment to the one provided to ATC (who would merely transmitthe electrons, not actually produce any electricity).If the tone of this comment statement seems angry, that is because any normalpeople would be angry when they have worked for three decades to lovingly tendto an irreplaceable ecosystem, and who supported this community economically,contributing hundreds of thousands of dollars in property taxes over those years.This sanctuary is a visible success. ATC has threatened to destroy this uniqueand fragile ecosystem, free of permanent barriers to wildlife. ATC has threatenedto seize the private property of people in my community, deciding how that landwill be used for generations. Not only has the need for this expensive project notbeen proven, with costs of many kinds, but the legally specified routing prioritiesare completely disregarded here, apparently not applicable to ATC.Per SWCA Vision: integrity as individuals and a company in our businesspractices and scientific endeavors; accountability on the part of our employeesto deliver on their commitments to SWCA, our clients, and our communities;creativity in developing solutions to challenges encountered by our clients.SWCA has been selected and employed by RUS, which is part of the UnitedStates Government, and we citizens are your clients. To determine that hardworking, dedicated community members in a unique ecological landscape musthave their land seized for private gain without a serious, impartial, in-depthcomparison to nontransmission alternatives does not seem consistent with theSWCA vision.As Bryan Norton of the WDNR states, “the value of biodiversity is more than thesum of its parts.” Wisconsin’s heritage includes conservationists John Muir, AldoLeopold, Gaylord Nelson to name perhaps the best known, though there arecountless people who work for the same goals in Wisconsin’s rich and beautifulecological communities. Allowing a permanent wall of wires, serviced bymassive motorized equipment, including low flying helicopter traffic, across theseunspoiled Driftless Area lands, to bring monopolized electricity to places whichhave local options, desecrates Wisconsin’s heritage.
May 19, 2016
To: American Transmission Company (ATC)
You have given us an opportunity to respond to the Cardinal Hickory Creek (CHC) proposal, and here is our response.
We are strongly opposed to CHC for several reasons.
- There is no convincing evidence of the current and future need for this in our community.
- There is no fully detailed cost to benefit analysis on the expected return on our large investment by Wisconsin ratepayers.
- We actively support conservation and local renewable energy production. - The cost to environment is too high. Such large scale and permanent destruction of wildlife habitiat, farmland, natural history and geography is inexcusable.
- The potential health hazards of compounding electromagnetic fields from additional high voltage lines with escalating exposures to cell phones/towers, and wi-fi has not been addressed.
Southwestern Wisconsin, Dane County, Town of Vermont, these are descriptors for the community we have called home for decades, communities in which we have worked, serving public needs as private citizens.
We use electricity every day. We know how important it is. We do not want to be without it, and we do not want our community to be without it. To play our part in assuring sufficient, reliable power to our community, we worked with a local photovoltaic installer, using Wisconsin made panels. It was an excellent experience with excellent results. Our utility company provided expert assistance for this very achieveable project. We are living in exciting times, with scientific discoveries and advanced solutions coming with increasing speed. Improving local solutions to community energy needs, especially maximizing on benefit to cost ratios and using decentralized production, is our best protection from threats to our power supply. This is true for any community in the United States.
Why would we want to concentrate this amount of electricity on lines you propose to own with an astronomical price tag when it is not in our best interest economically, and when it threatens local control? What protection from power loss due to natural and human catastrophe would a community have when its power source is concentrated in this way? What assurances does a community have that you will not leave us with costly, obsolete technology? What assurances does a community have that your ever increasing overhead network will not leave us burdened with illnesses? Tobacco and asbestos were once deemed safe.
We see no need for your proposal. If your claims about working with landowners are true, you would seek fully informed volunteer ones, those who have a clear understanding of the cost they will bear, economically and otherwise, and who willingly do so. Full transparency demands a critical look at every aspect of your proposal, with all of the pros and cons, in independently researched and credible details which are understandable to the ratepaying Wisconsin public with whom you say you partner.