Alma-LaCrosse developers’ assessments, mitigation plans inadequate – environmental group

The environmental group Clean Wisconsin says the developers of the CapX2020 Alma-LaCrosse line have failed to “adequately address or account for all potential impacts of the [proposed] project.”  

In its initial post-hearing brief filed with the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSCW) March 30, the group also claims the joint applicants – Dairyland Power Cooperative, Northern States Power Company-Wisc., and WPPI Energy – “have not adequately addressed how they would avoid and/or mitigate those impacts that have been identified.”

The group enumerated five main points in its brief, including the primary point that “There is not enough information in the record to adequately compare and evaluate the environmental impacts of all proposed line routes, as required by Wisconsin law.” The group further stated, “The final environmental impact statement [FEIS] in this case did not contain an alternatives analysis that adequately described different potential alternatives and their consequences,” the brief stated.

In its brief, Clean Wisconsin charged, “The applicants have underestimated the wetlands impacts for every proposed route. There are multiple inconsistencies and information gaps in the case documents that make it impossible to accurately assess the real environmental impacts of constructing this project.”

For example, the group pointed to figures in the project application that stated “there will only be 4.94 acres of temporary and permanent wetland impact for the Arcadia route, but the FEIS indicates that there will be at least 116.7 acres of affected wetland acres, and the rare species report states that there will be at least 110.9 acres of permanent or temporary habitat modification.” The group also said the applicants failed to distinguish the difference between a wetland “habitat modification,” an “affected acre” and “impact,” despite repeated requests to do so.

In addition, the group asserted that “construction and maintenance of large, high-voltage transmission line corridors through sensitive areas contradicts and undermines years of state and federal planning and investment in the conservation of these valuable and irreplaceable resources.”

Clean Wisconsin also noted that according to the FEIS, construction and maintenance of the line has the potential to result in a number of environmental impacts.

The group’s brief also charged that “Failure to consider more than one river crossing location in the context of the CPCN proceeding illegally eliminates the alternatives analysis required by state statutes.” The Mississippi River crossing segment of the proposed project requires the same treatment as any other segment under consideration in this proceeding, the group said. “It is no more acceptable to ‘winnow’ river crossing alternatives down to one, with no proposed alternatives, prior to submittal of the project application than it would be to similarly predetermine, without public input, a single route for the entire project.”

In its conclusion, Clean Wisconsin opined that the “PSCW does not have enough information to grant the project a certificate of public convenience and necessity (CPCN) under Wisconsin statutes, which require the PSCW to ensure that environmental impacts are thoroughly evaluated by applicants before issuing a CPCN,” the brief stated.

In the event that the commission does decide to approve the project, the group asked that it condition such approval on the use of independent environmental monitors who would report to the commission. The brief quoted a witness from the Department of Natural Resources who testified, “It has been my experience that while construction minimization measures may be optimally described in the CPCN, the measures perform less than optimally in the field.”

The Alma-LaCrosse project is part of the larger Hampton-Rochester-LaCrosse Capx2020 project, which is planned to extend from the Twin Cities area of Minnesota to LaCrosse, Wisc. The Alma-La Crosse segment involves eight possible routes ranging from 41 to 57 miles in length.