Construction is set to begin next month on the La Crosse County leg of a controversial high-voltage power line to Dane County in spite of permit delays and a pending legal challenge.

American Transmission Co., which is spearheading construction of the $548 million project, notified Wisconsin utility regulators this week that it began work in the county on March 17, though ATC spokeswoman Kaya Freiman said right-of-way clearing would likely start in early April.

A joint venture of ATC and several regional utility companies, including La Crosse-based Dairyland Power Cooperative, the 180-mile line will run between the Madison suburbs and Holmen, where it will connect to another high-voltage line, CapX2020, that runs across Minnesota and western Wisconsin.

The project has yet to receive the necessary wetland permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, though work has begun in upland areas. Line has been strung on towers along Interstate 90 near Wisconsin Dells, and crews in January began clearing land in Monroe County.

Rebecca Graser, the Corps’ regulatory branch program manager for Wisconsin, said the agency is almost done reviewing ATC’s applications for work in segments 2-4 and should have a decision early next month. The Corps is awaiting feedback from Native American tribes on the western segments, and Graser couldn’t give a timeline for review of those permits.

The notification that work has begun triggers distribution of nearly a million dollars of environmental impact fees to the county and three affected municipalities. La Crosse County is slated to receive just over $447,000. Monroe County will receive $1.3 million and Jackson County $1.9 million.

The funds must be used on parks, conservancy or environmental projects, although the Public Service Commission can approve alternative uses.

The La Crosse County board has approved spending $197,000 on park and campground improvements, $150,000 on the new Holmen community center, and $100,000 on a yet to be determined energy efficiency project.

In addition to a one-time payment of about $366,000, the town of Holland will receive about $44,000 per year for the life of the project.

Clerk Marilyn Pedretti said the town board has yet to decide how to use the funds as the town has filed a court challenge to the PSC’s approval of the line and its routing, which will follow the Hwy. 53 corridor parallel to the recently-built CapX2020 transmission line — though on separate poles.

La Crosse County Judge Todd Bjerke is expected to rule this spring on whether the case can proceed to trial.

“Obviously we were hopeful the lawsuit would take,” she said.

The town used about $54,000 of the environmental impact fee from the CapX project to install solar panels on the town hall, which now generate more electricity than the municipal building uses. Pedretti said the project is expected to save taxpayers more than $86,000 during the next 25 years.

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