Environmental Groups Raise Concerns Over Cardinal-Hickory Creek Line
Thursday, May 5, 2022
Earlier this year, a federal court struck down plans to drive the Cardinal-Hickory Creek power line through the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, which stretches from Minnesota to Illinois.
The energy companies behind the operation are challenging the decision, raising concerns from environmental organizations.
Mike Senatore, vice president of conservation law for Defenders of Wildlife, said a proposal to swap land between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the energy companies who co-own the power line is particularly concerning, since it could set a precedent of using such methods to greenlight development projects.
"Beyond the impacts of this particular project, we have concerns that if this were allowed to occur here, it could set a bad precedent elsewhere," Senatore explained. "It's not uncommon for refuges to face development pressures."
Defenders of Wildlife, alongside other environmental groups, filed the initial lawsuit challenging the line's planned path through the refuge. Cardinal-Hickory Creek's co-owners argued the project was in compliance with federal and state laws, and the new project will replace preexisting power lines which cut through the protected area, reducing the electric transmission footprint in the refuge.
A federal-district court in January blocked construction on the transmission line's planned route through the refuge, determining it violated environmental laws and its Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), was flawed.
Howard Learner, president and executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center, which is representing the groups challenging the plan, noted the court then vacated and returned the project's EIS to three federal agencies for review.
"The Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge is the gem of the wildlife refuge system in the Midwest," Learner contended. "It's simply the wrong place to bring a high-voltage transmission line with up to 20-story-tall towers going smack through the middle of it."
The transmission companies and federal agencies have appealed the decisions to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit. Simultaneously, Learner added they are pushing construction up to the edges of the refuge, in hopes the two prior decisions will be overturned, and they will be permitted to cross through the protected area.
"And that's a waste of ratepayers' money, and it creates an enormous amount of unnecessary environmental and property damage," Learner asserted.
In his decision, Judge William Conley described the companies' "wait and see" method as "little more than an orchestrated train wreck."
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