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WUWM's Susan Bence reports on Wisconsin environmental issues.

Wisconsinites Living & Farming Along Proposed Natural Gas Pipeline Not Enthused

Susan Bence
Farmer Steven Ament (left) looks over We Energies’ plan at the Feb. 26 Public Service Commission hearing. Ament says either path would impact both his and his father's ability to farm their land.";

According to a report from the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin, nearly 30% of the energy residents rely on is fueled by natural gas. That is almost 2% more than coal.

We Energies wants to increase its natural gas delivery capacity by laying a pipeline that would stretch from rural Walworth County to northcentral Kenosha County.

The utility says the 2-foot-wide, 46-mile-long system, called the Lakeshore Lateral Natural Gas Pipeline Project, is necessary to provide energy to ever-developing southeast Wisconsin. But most of the 250 people gathered for a recent hearing didn’t seem to share We Energies’ enthusiasm for the project.

The hearing took place at Veterans’ Terrace, a popular meeting and reception venue in Burlington. The Fox River serves as its natural backdrop. The river is one of the waterways the proposed natural gas pipeline would cross.

Two possible routes are on the drawing table.

Credit Public Service Commission of Wisconsin
We Energies would like to follow one of these two routes for its proposed 46-mile-long natural gas pipeline.

Both begin southeast of Whitewater, connecting to an existing natural gas main. And eventually the pipeline would hook up to a line currently under construction in Kenosha County.

Steven Ament says his and his father’s farmland would be impacted by both routes. "I’m not opposed to progress and distributing gas to the costumers. But we own a number of properties where previous pipelines have gone through, and there seems to be always problems with drainage," Ament explains.

Farmers in this area routinely install a series of tiles and ditches in their fields to help prevent water from ponding when heavy rains come. These systems help reduce the risk that farmers lose crops to flooding.

Ament says if the pipeline project moves forward, he’d like something in writing from We Energies promising to repair any damaged tiles.

Company spokesperson Brendan Conway says the utility takes farmers’ concern seriously: "We have heard from a lot of farmers. We have committed and will continue to commit that not only will we fix any drain tiles that would be damaged during construction, but in future years if they were to be damaged we come to work with them as well.

Conway adds, "That’s committed!"

Conway’s words did little to appease Richard Ingram. He’s worried about his nearly 200 acres — some of which is farmed.

At the hearing, Ingram told Public Service Commission (PSC) staff that he doesn’t know where to start with his list of concerns. "They want to bore through wetlands. I’m not sure how they can bore through wetlands when the average homeowner can’t touch them," he says.

Wetlands would be impacted by the We Energies natural gas pipeline — at least 80, and more if the alternative plan is chosen.

Adam Ingwell with the PSC says its commissioners weigh all environmental impacts as they decide whether to approve the proposed pipeline.

"Our environmental review talks about the different routes and the impacts associated with them and it has all kinds of general mitigation and avoidance measures that can be undertaken. So when the time comes for a commission decision, whatever that is, the commission’s decision could include any of a number of environmental mitigation things right that have come forth," Ingwell says.

Chaz Self isn’t sure he would be able to mitigate his way around the pipeline. He and his wife farm organically outside of East Troy.

He says the proposed pipeline would cut their 400 acres in half. "I should have talked a little more about how personal every bit of this land is. I’ve chased cows down that road. I’ve been shocked by that fence and I think it’s hard for something like this to be proposed and not realize how much affect it does have on farmers," Self says.

As a certified organic farmer, Self can’t use chemical fertilizers or petroleum-based sprays to keep weeds under control in his fields. He says the heavy equipment used to lay a pipeline would compact and could contaminate his soils. He says, if his soil became contaminated, it could take up to seven years for his organic operation to recuperate.

We Energies spokesperson Brendan Conway insisted the utility is committed to work with landowners along the pipeline’s path. "We want to get to an agreement with every property owner to get an easement, pay them, have a good working relationship — that’s kind of the first, second and third step as far as this process for us. And that’s all that we’re focused on at this point," he says.

PSC commissioners will hold an open meeting to considers We Energies' pipeline application. That’s expected to happen this month.

The state Department of Natural Resources is also in the process of considering permits that would cover waterway and wetland impacts as well as the utility’s erosion control plans. Under state law, the DNR must decide on those permits within 30 days of the PSC decision.

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