A circuit court hearing by conference call? A lay person’s summary
by Jen Filipiak
As you all know, I am new to the Driftless Area Land Conservancy (DALC). I took over for David Clutter in November as the new Executive Director. It’s been one of the most interesting and fast paced job transitions I’ve ever experienced, and that was before the pandemic!
An especially interesting and important part of my job is to understand and be able to speak to our opposition to the massive 125-mile Cardinal-Hickory Creek Transmission Line. Our stance is clear: this project is based on an outdated approach to the electricity system, is environmentally destructive, costly to ratepayers, and simply not needed. Public opposition to this project is also clear as thousands of residents continue to make their voices heard through in-person town hall meetings, attending court hearings, penning letters to the editor, and more. What is not so clear, at least to a non-attorney like me, are all the incredibly complex legal filings, hearings, and arguments that are necessary to make our case in court. We have an impressive legal team at the Environmental Law & Policy Center to keep all the legal “ducks in a row,” and to continually educate me on what is happening in the courts!
Last week, on April 7, I had the opportunity to attend a status hearing on our case convened by Dane County Circuit Court Judge Niess. Several issues were discussed and one in particular caught my attention because it relates to how we treat each other during the COVID pandemic. This is a phenomenon unlike any in our lifetimes. I don’t need to tell you all the ways this is affecting us – we are all living it. In fact, this public status hearing was held via conference call!
Individuals who own land in the proposed path of the line have been contacted by the American Transmission Company (ATC) or by ITC requesting permission to access their land for surveying and related purposes. ITC is responsible for construction of the line from Dubuque County, Iowa to Montfort, WI; and ATC is working from Montfort to Middleton. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and in due respect to landowners, for the next two months ITC has voluntarily discontinued contacting landowners.
Our legal team has asked ATC to take a similar position and has filed several affidavits from landowners along ATC’s proposed portion of the line describing how stressful it is to continue to receive requests for access to their land when we are all under Governor Ever’s Safer at Home order. During the hearing, ATC’s attorney claimed that their business is essential and said that they will continue to contact landowners to keep up with their pre-pandemic construction timeline. When further pressed, he actually invited DALC and associated CHC opposition groups to advise landowners that they are not obligated to speak with representatives of ATC if contacted. Of course, this is what we have been advising all along.
From a lay person’s view point, when the rest of the world is making huge adjustments because of the pandemic, it’s hard to fathom why ATC apparently considers their schedule too imperative to change.
Since last week’s circuit court hearing, additional documents have been submitted to Judge Niess. Attorneys from both sides were instructed to make an effort to work out a compromise concerning restrictions on ATC contacting landowners. At the hearing scheduled for 3:00pm this Thursday, April 16, we’re hopeful a compromise will be reached or that Judge Niess will compel ATC to delay landowner outreach as ITC has done.
The next status hearing – tomorrow at 3pm – is not a public hearing but a courtroom legal proceeding. However the public can observe. You have two options to listen in to this hearing:
You may view this hearing by using the following link: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCX6uVaz-AYWrLQwQdOUccqw
You can join via any of the conference call numbers below and immediately mute your line.
+1 646 558 8656 US (New York)
+1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago)
+1 301 715 8592 US
+1 346 248 7799 US (Houston)
+1 669 900 9128 US (San Jose)
+1 253 215 8782 US
The Meeting ID is: 803 533 211
And the password is: 285976