Latest News on CHC
November 21, 2021: Opposition Voices Persist
The legal battle to prevent the construction of the Cardinal-Hickory Creek (CHC) transmission line continues in both the Dane County District Court and in the Federal District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin. Meanwhile, the dedicated cadre of NO-CHC activists are not sitting quietly on the sidelines! They continue to express their opposition in colorful, creative ways.
On a recent balmy Sunday morning, activists gathered at Festge County Park just west of Cross Plains, Wisconsin. Armed with colorful banners, signs and window paint, close to thirty vehicles were soon festooned with powerful messages that leave no doubt the opposition to this project remains strong. Soon a procession of decorated cars and trucks was parading thorough downtown Cross Plains and on past the Cardinal electrical substation, the terminus of the CHC project. At the substation, members of the media were on hand to interview prominent voices of the opposition movement. Channel 3000 ran a story on the protest, which you can watch here.
Driftless Area Land Conservancy continues its opposition to the CHC project. We are in agreement with the Public Service Commission’s own staff. There are better, far less expensive ways to create and maintain a secure, reliable, clean energy future for the Driftless Area and the upper Midwest. Our precious, unique landscape is ideally positioned to employ 21st century energy technology. Now is the time to do so. We are grateful for your support as we strive to help create a brighter future for us all.
November 1, 2021: Federal Court Judge Issues Preliminary Injunction Against ATC’s Huge Transmission Line through the Scenic Wisconsin Driftless Area Landscape and Communities
“The Court finds that Conservation Groups are likely to prevail on the merits, and that federal statutes prevent this huge high-voltage transmission line with 20-story high towers from running through the protected Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge.” Howard Learner, Attorney for the Plaintiffs
The U.S. District Court issued an Opinion and Order which grants a focused preliminary injunction stopping ATC and the other developers from damaging 114 wetlands on the proposed transmission line path. The Court finds that Conservation Groups have a strong argument on the merits that federal statutes prevent this huge high-voltage transmission line with 20-story high towers from running through the protected Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge.
DALC believes that the Court’s preliminary injunction decision is well-grounded in both law and common sense. ATC and ITC should hit the pause button and hold off from creating unnecessary costs and environmental damage while the Court decides the case on the merits over the next 30-60 days. It is in the public interest and can better protect both the environment and ratepayers.
October 27, 2021: Recent State and Federal Court Hearings
Driftless Area Land Conservancy’s efforts to stop the costly, unnecessary Cardinal-Hickory Creek (CHC) transmission line project have intensified, as construction on the project in Wisconsin is imminent. American Transmission Company (ATC) has announced that construction in Wisconsin is slated to begin by the end of October 2021.
However, DALC is working to prevent the environmental damage this project would inflict. Instead of the massive infrastructure expansion Cardinal-Hickory Creek would require, DALC supports twenty-first century clean energy and efficiency technologies that can foster a more fiscally and environmentally responsible energy future.
State and Federal Court Motions for Temporary Injunctions.--DALC and collaborating petitioners including Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, National Wildlife Refuge Association, Defenders of Wildlife, Iowa and Dane Counties and others petitioned both the Dane County District Circuit Court and the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin. The petitions asked that a temporary halt on construction be imposed until the lawsuits involving the project get resolved in court.
In Iowa, the Right of Way (ROW) has already been cleared up to the border of the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge. These petitions seek to prevent that type of environmental damage in Wisconsin. Once construction has begun on the Wisconsin side, the harm inflicted cannot be undone.
Recent Hearings.--Hearings on these petitions were held in late October. In state court, Judge Jacob Frost ruled that he would impose a temporary injunction. However, he also ruled that before the injunction could take effect, the petitioners (DALC and others) would have to post a $32 million bond for financial losses that could occur during the temporary delay. This exorbitant amount is far beyond what DALC could ever raise. The developers claim this amount would cover their possible losses for a delay of up to six months. Judge Frost questioned the figure because previously the developers had acknowledged they could still complete the project on schedule even if there were a six-month delay. Nevertheless, Judge Frost said his “hands were tied” by the law, and thus he imposed the bond requirement.
In federal court, Judge William Conley has heard the oral arguments but has not yet ruled on the petition. Meanwhile, the developers have agreed to not begin construction in Wisconsin until November 1st on those portions of the project covered in the federal cases.
DALC and our collaborators continue to pursue four separate lawsuits in these two courts. The issues include possible legal violations in the project approval process, violations in regards to a Public Service Commissioner’s improper communications with the project developers, and violations in regards to permitting needed for the project to cross the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge.
Driftless Area Land Conservancy remains stalwart in defense of our unique driftless landscape and in promoting a smart, clean energy future.
October 14, 2021: DALC and Others Seek Preliminary Injunctions to Halt Further Environmental Degradation
Hearings in both Federal and State Circuit Court are Imminent
In our on-going fight to protect the Driftless Area, DALC joined Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, Dane and Iowa Counties, the Town of Wyoming and the Village of Montfort in filing a motion for a preliminary injunction in the Dane County Branch 9 Circuit Court. This motion requests a temporary halt of construction on the Cardinal-Hickory Creek (CHC) high-voltage transmission line that is threatening the protected Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge and Wisconsin’s Driftless Area. The injunction request is based on issues concerning the approval process for the CHC project. It would continue until the court can decide the case on the merits later this year or early next year. The request has been granted. The hearing is Monday, Oct. 18.
Barring a preliminary injunction, CHC developers state they intend to push forward with construction on the Wisconsin portion of the high-voltage line route as soon as October 25. The apparent goal is to get as much of the line built as possible before the court can decide, so that any finding of illegality would be more difficult to enforce. Clear cutting of trees has already occurred on the Iowa side of the route up to the border of the Refuge, and now the companies plan to start clearing the right-of-way for their proposed route up to the border of the Refuge on the Wisconsin side of the Mississippi River.
U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin
Hearing - Friday, Oct. 22 at 1:00 pm
A similar injunction request by DALC, the National Wildlife Refuge Association, Wisconsin Wildlife Federation and Defenders of Wildlife was filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin. This request has also been granted. The hearing is Friday, Oct. 22.
The lawsuit challenges the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to allow the companies to build this massive project across the Refuge under the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997, which prohibits uses of Refuge land that interfere with or do not contribute to the Refuge’s wildlife purposes.
It also challenges the permits granted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to allow the project to damage protected wetlands. It alleges that all of the federal agencies violated the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) by failing to “objectively evaluate and rigorously explore” reasonable non-wires alternatives and powerline upgrades to enhance the capacity of the existing transmission or potential routes north or south of the protected National Wildlife Refuge.
DALC continues to enjoy the support of a broad range of partners in the work to stop this unnecessary, destructive project. Words can’t express our appreciation for the dedication and expertise of the legal team at the Environmental Law & Policy Center. We are also especially grateful for our partnerships with Iowa County, Dane County and with the other municipalities that have joined in these legal battles. Finally, groups such as the Driftless Defenders have been invaluable allies in this effort.
“The Refuge is part of the unique Driftless Area of Wisconsin where we have been working to protect and restore land and habitat with many landowners and conservation partners for the last 20 years. DALC opposes this unnecessary and costly transmission line in part because it will permanently harm that Refuge. We should instead be pursuing better clean energy alternatives that can grow our local economies, support farmers and sustain our communities while avoiding the massive damage that this line and the others that could follow will have.” - Jennifer Filipiak, DALC Exec. Director
September 24, 2021: Public welcome to attend hearings in person or via livestream
September 27 update: THIS HEARING HAS BEEN CANCELLED
By Driftless Area Land Conservancy
The evidentiary hearing on the alleged impropriety in the process before the PSC will take place on September 29 and 30, 2021 at the Dane County Courthouse in Madison. The hearing will begin promptly at 8:30 am and is likely to end at 4:30 pm on both days. Members of the public are welcome and encouraged to attend! You may attend in person (the courtroom has a 50 person capacity) or view the proceedings via live stream. If you attend in person masks are required.
Our hearing will take place in courtroom 6B:
6th Floor, Courtroom 6B, Branch 9
215 S Hamilton Street
Madison WI 53703-3285
The court provides this map for parking options:
The livestream channels are here:
Choose Dane Cty Branch 9
July 19, 2021: Reply Comments Opposing ATC's Motion to Stay
By Driftless Area Land Conservancy
Environmental Law and Policy Center attorneys filed a Reply Brief Opposing Transmission Companies' Motion to Stay filed in the Circuit Court by Dane County, Iowa County, Village of Montfort, Town of Wyoming, Driftless Area Land Conservancy, Wisconsin Wildlife Federation. “The Applicants’ extraordinary request for the PSC to rescind the CPCN for the Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line is an admission that they unlawfully interfered with the PSC’s decision-making process to produce a favorable Final Decision that is no longer defensible. While many of the facts remain shrouded from public view, what we know so far shocks the conscience.” DALC & WWF Reply
It’s unclear how the Public Service Commission will proceed concerning this unprecedented request to rescind a project approval. The Commission’s next Open Meeting is scheduled for Thursday, July 29, 10:30am. Additionally, Dane County Circuit Court Judge Jacob Frost has reaffirmed that the evidentiary hearings concerning these issues will remain on schedule and are to be held September 29 and 30, 2021.
July 14, 2021: Brief Opposing ATC's Motion to Stay
By Driftless Area Land Conservancy
Environmental Law and Policy Center attorneys filed a Brief Opposing Transmission Companies' Motion to Stay filed in the Circuit Court by Dane County, Iowa County, Village of Montfort, Town of Wyoming, Driftless Area Land Conservancy, Wisconsin Wildlife Federation. “The Court should reject the Transmission Companies’ attempted legal sanitization of their wrongdoing and Commissioner Huebsch’s bias or at least appearance of bias, which establishes a due process violation.” DALC & WWF Response Brief
June 29, 2021: ATC files to rescind permit. Statement forthcoming.
By Driftless Area Land Conservancy
Circuit Court Rules in DALC's Favor
By: Driftless Area Land Conservancy
Circuit Court Judge Jacob Frost issued a ruling in our favor on May 26, 2021. We have long asserted that that Commissioner Mike Huebsch had a perceived conflict of interest that biased his ruling in favor of the Cardinal Hickory Creek transmission line. This ruling is a huge victory for the case against ATC and the CHC line. “Essentially the judge said there’s a lot of smoke, and we’re entitled to make our case that there is fire.” Read the full decision here.
Court Challenges Continue
By Environmental Law and Policy Center
In addition to the state court case, Driftless Area Land Conservancy (DALC) and others are challenging various state and federal agency approvals for the CHC transmission line in three lawsuits in Federal Court.
The first lawsuit argues that the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin’s approval for the CHC transmission line is invalid because Commissioner Huebsch and Chair Valcq had entanglements with the parties supporting the transmission line. These entanglements violated federal Constitutional due process.
The Commissioners asked the U.S. District Court to dismiss our case, but Federal District Court Judge William Conley ruled that DALC and co-plaintiff Wisconsin Wildlife Federation (WWF) can proceed with their claims against Commissioners Huebsch and Valcq. The Commissioners appealed the Court’s decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, arguing that they cannot be sued in federal court. We disagree! The parties have submitted briefs and held oral argument on February 17th. We await a decision by that Court.
Plaintiffs: Driftless Area Land Conservancy and Wisconsin Wildlife Federation
The second and third lawsuits challenge the environmental analysis and approvals issued by several federal agencies – the USDA Rural Utilities Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. For example, the agencies failed to consider alternatives like upgrades to existing lines paired with distributed generation, battery storage, demand response, and energy efficiency.
These cases are still in their early stages and will likely be litigated together. The current schedule calls for the parties to submit all of their briefs by early November, after which the Court will issue its ruling.
Plaintiffs: The Driftless Area Land Conservancy, Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, National Wildlife Refuge Association, Defenders of Wildlife
August, 2019: Wisconsin Public Service Commission’s Decision and DALC’s Response
By Driftless Area Land Conservancy
In spite of overwhelming public opposition, modeling by the Commission’s own staff, and the compelling testimony of expert witness, the Wisconsin Public Service Commission (PSC) has approved this project. Nevertheless, we are convinced that CHC is not in the public interest and that there are viable opportunities to stop this project through the court system. DALC is working closely with the Environmental Law & Policy Center, a highly reputable Midwest non-profit environment and natural heritage law firm to appeal this decision in both the state circuit court and in federal court. As of early 2020, these proceedings are just beginning to unfold. We will post updates as they develop.