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State Journal

The Baraboo Bluffs and the Kickapoo Valley — two of southern Wisconsin's most scenic areas — are no longer under consideration for potential routes for the proposed high-voltage Badger Coulee transmission line.

American Transmission Co. has pared its options and on Tuesday released a new map of possible routes for the $425 million power line that would extend from north of La Crosse to the Madison area.

Six public meetings are scheduled in April to talk about the plans, at locations that include Waunakee and Wisconsin Dells. ATC is sending letters this week to about 9,000 land owners and public officials who could be affected by the preliminary routes.

Among the features of the narrowed list:

• In Sauk County, paths through Baraboo and Reedsburg have been removed from consideration. Only the northeast corner, where Interstate 90/94 cuts through, is still among the options.

• Vernon County, where the Kickapoo Valley is centered, is no longer on the list.

• Prospective paths heading northwest from the Madison area would primarily follow either I-90/94, Highway 12 or existing transmission corridors. One set of options would cut west at Lyndon Station to the La Crosse area; another set would run farther north, turning west at one of three possible sites from the Warrens area to Black River Falls.

After public meetings last summer on a broader list of potential routes, ATC examined them more closely and considered comments, said Sarah Justus, ATC manager of local relations. As a result, areas that posed serious challenges — electrical, environmental or otherwise — were excluded.

"We learned a lot about the environmental sensitivity of the Baraboo Bluffs. It's something we take very seriously," Justus said. The Kickapoo Valley also raised environmental concerns, as well as constraints on routing electricity, she said.

Citizen groups opposed to Badger Coulee said they think their outcry made a difference.

"We think the new routes indicate the major impact that citizens have had on the process," said Joe Morse, of Winona, Minn., a spokesman for Citizens Energy Task Force, based in La Crosse. But he added, "I wouldn't say we're happy. We don't think this (transmission line) is needed at all. We think it is a waste of money and a waste of energy."

Citizens Energy Task Force and Soul of the Kickapoo, based in La Farge, are both questioning the need for Badger Coulee and for CapX2020, a 700-mile series of lines proposed to run from the Dakotas to western Wisconsin, connecting to Badger Coulee.

Later this year, ATC will narrow the possibilities to two or more final routes and hold public meetings this fall before filing an application with the state Public Service Commission next year. If approved, construction would begin in 2016 with completion scheduled in 2018.