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Save Our Unique Lands group in Mauston

Reedsburg attorney Terry Weix discusses the proposed Badger Coulee Transmission Line Project on Monday with Jan Kenyon of the La Farge-based group SOUL of the Kickapoo. The group set up outside the Mauston business where two companies held a public information session about the proposed Coulee Line Project to provide attendees with an alternate take on the project, which they oppose.

MAUSTON — The companies that want to build a high-voltage power transmission line from La Crosse to Madison through Juneau and Sauk counties held another public information session in Mauston on Monday.

The session was one of the very last in the fourth and final series of public open houses before the companies formally ask the state Public Service Commission next year for permission to build the line along one of two routes.

“There’s no perfect route,” said Anne Spatholz, spokeswoman for American Transmission Co. “We’re looking to minimize impacts to people, communities and the environment.”

The information session in Mauston was really two sessions — an official event inside Anjero’s Sports Bar and Grill by ATC and Xcel Energy and a second, unofficial session in the parking lot by people who oppose the project.

“We need to slow this process down and be sure we’re spending money in the proper way,” said Dena Eakles, who lives in the Vernon County village of Ontario.

Eakles and other members of the La Farge-based group SOUL of the Kickapoo — the word is an acronym for Save Our Unique Lands — were joined by representatives of the Juneau County Decline the Line group in the parking lot, where they offered information about alternatives to the transmission line, including conservation and small-scale, local power generation, that they say the companies haven’t considered.

American Transmission Co. introduced plans for the Badger Coulee Transmission Line Project in 2010 but proposed no specific route. Instead, the company offered dozens of possible routes and held a series of open houses across the project area aimed at gathering information and comment from the public about the possible routes.

Earlier this year, the company cut its list of possible routes to four and in September narrowed the list to just two, which the company refers to as the northern and southern routes.

The northern route would follow Interstate 90/94 from northern Dane County to Black River Falls, west to Blair and then south to Holmen.

“Ninety percent of that route uses existing corridors,” including highways and existing transmission line routes, Spatholz said.

The northern route would be about 170 miles and cost about $500 million. “It’s the longer route and it costs a little more,” Spatholz said.

The southern route would travel north from the Madison area near the interstate to Portage, then northwest along state Highway 16, head west at Lyndon Station through Elroy to Cashton, then north to Rockland and west along the interstate to Onalaska and then Holmen.

The southern route would use only about 60 percent existing corridors, so it would affect more private landowners but, at about 150 miles, would be shorter and therefore cost less — an estimated $470 million.

In August, the Juneau County board of Supervisors joined county boards in Vernon, Sauk, Monroe and Jackson counties in adopting a resolution demanding more information about the need for the project and possible alternatives, as have about two dozen other villages, cities and towns in the affected area.

“There’s a lot of people who are saying they don’t care because it’s not going through their property,” Eakles said. “But the truth is it’s going to impact us.”

Impacts will come in the form of a diminished environment and tourism, higher utility bills and even possible health effects for those who live or work near the transmission line, Eakles said.

Spatholz said rate-payers in 11 states will pay for the transmission line and, in this area, can expect to pay an average of 15 cents more on a $100 electricity bill over the 40-year projected life of the project.

“It definitely has benefits for local communities,” Spatholz said.

Spatholz said the benefits include increased reliability of smaller, local transmission lines by lessening the load they carry, and forestalling or eliminating millions in upgrades to local transmission lines.

The transmission line also offers the possibility of lower power costs for ratepayers here, Spatholz said, by allowing power producers in states to the west to sell power in this area — including some produced from wind.

“What that does is allow your utility to put some downward pressure on rates,” Spatholz said. “It’s like being able to shop at more than one grocery store.”

Spatholz said wind power is far more viable in states west of Wisconsin.

Spatholz said company officials expect a ruling from the Public Service Commission in the second half of 2014. If the commission green lights the project, Spatholz said the line would be up and opening in late 2017 or early 2018.

In the parking lot at Anjero’s, where people attending the open house drifted by with questions and comments, Eakles said that the public needs to look past the issue of specific routes to see the big picture.

“Let’s look at all the possibilities,” Eakles said. “This is not a done deal by any stretch of the imagination.”

Public comment will be accepted on the proposed transmission line through Nov. 30 online at www.badgercoulee.com.