U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service opposes proposed Alma-LaCrosse alignments

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has voiced its opposition to the three major routes proposed for the 345-kV Alma-LaCrosse transmission line, which is part of CapX2020.

In a Dec. 22 letter to the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSC), FWS stated its concern that all three proposed routes “include sections that would cross through and near Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife & Fish Refuge” (Upper Miss) and would be detrimental to a broad range of wildlife.

FWS’ strongest opposition was to the Q1-Highway 35 Route. That alignment “is located close to, and in some place adjacent to, a number of large and important federal and state-owned natural resource areas and would cross the [Upper Miss] Refuge in three locations. The Service has a number of concerns that cumulatively underscore risks and potential ecological costs to migratory birds of routing the 345 kV transmission line near the Mississippi River,” the letter said.

FWS expressed its concern that weather conditions would make the line an even greater hazard to bald and golden eagles that inhabit the area.

“Under frequently foggy or otherwise inclement weather conditions in spring or fall when the eagles are most abundant, this attraction could present significant strike hazards where the 345 kV line would closely parallel the Mississippi River or other areas where eagles have gathered to roost or forage,” the letter continued.

The agency also stated its concern that waterfowl – including ducks and geese, and sandhill cranes – songbirds, and the eastern massasauga rattlesnake could also be adversely affected by a high-voltage line along the Q1-Highway 35 route.

The organization also opposed the Q1-Galesville alignment for essentially the same reasons it opposed the Highway 35 route, though it admitted the route “would avoid the significant adverse impacts to the Black River bottoms and to the Refuge that would result from implementation of the Q1-Highway 35 Route.”

The Arcadia Route, while not viewed favorably, was cited as the least detrimental in FWS’ view.

“The Arcadia Route would cause adverse impacts to migratory birds by destroying and altering upland forest, but bird collision risk for the 345 kV line may be the least among the proposed routes due to its distance from the Mississippi River,” the letter said.

While the draft environmental impact statement (EIS) did not list the original Q1 route as an alternative, FWS said it did not regard the original Q1 Route as a viable alternative.

“Addition of the 345 kV line through this route would approximately double the width of the current (expired) [right-of-way] through the Refuge, would require additional clearing of approximately five acres of forested wetlands, introduce additional lines that would increase the likelihood of bird collisions, and would likely cause adverse effects to eastern massasauga,” the letter stated.

In its letter, FWS urged consideration of the Blair route, an alignment that was eliminated early in the process because it was longer and more costly than other alternatives.  “There are, however, other considerations besides length and cost that need to be fully evaluated,” FWS stated in its letter.

Whatever routing is selected, the FWS urged additional steps be taken before construction.

“Surveys should be conducted to ensure that likely impacts of the project to bald and golden eagles are well understood before project construction,” the letter said.

Finally, FWS recommended the applicants take action to “minimize and mitigate impacts to birds that may result from collisions, electrocutions, and other factors,” including the use of bird flight diverters to reduce the risk of bird collisions with the power lines.

Inquiries seeking comment from CapX2020 officials were not returned as of press time.