About four years ago, with my notebook and camera in tow, I pulled into the parking lot of Dodger Bowl in my hometown of Dodgeville. It was packed — there were so many cars there you’d think there was a community event or fundraiser of some sort going on. But this was something different.
More than 100 people of all ages and walks of life had gathered in the banquet hall for an informational session on Cardinal-Hickory Creek, a transmission line project proposed by three entities that was slated to run through Iowa County. The informational session wasn’t hosted by the three utilities that had submitted the proposal for the line; instead, it was hosted by the Driftless Defenders, a grassroots organization of citizens and landowners along the proposed routes — coming together to share information about the line and stand together in opposition of project, siting environmental and economical impacts, along with a general agreement that the line uses outdated technology and is not needed.
Studying a large map that was on display, I gathered one of the proposed routes for the power line cut directly through a swath of land north of Dodgeville that had been devastated by a tornado just two years earlier. It was while I was studying the map that I met Betsy D’Angelo, a woman who survived the tornado, only to feel the pressure from another disaster looming — this transmission line project.
Over the past four years, I’ve gotten to know Betsy and others involved in the Driftless Defenders through my role as a reporter, first with The Dodgeville Chronicle, then with The Country Today. I even had the opportunity to hear from another group in Dane County that was studying the potential impacts of the project while freelancing for the Mount Horeb Mail. It was eye-opening to see the number of people involved — even the number of people who just had concerns that they wanted to be heard — and it’s still something that strikes me about this story today.
Two weeks ago, news broke that at an open meeting of the Wisconsin Public Service Commission, the transmission line project was unanimously approved. Although the vote was preliminary and there will be more steps taken before the project ultimately moves forward, it was a huge blow for the grassroots group that worked tirelessly for years in opposition to the project.
I immediately thought of Betsy and all the others I had met along the way. I was able to reach her by phone later the evening, where she explained what had unfolded that day, and how she believes the commission ignored expert testimony and the unprecedented amount of public comments that were submitted. She detailed how people began leaving the hearing room in disbelief as one by one, the commissioners gave their approval of the project.
While the Driftless Defenders and other organizations that have come out in opposition of the project plan to file an appeal, it will take time, energy and funding to keep that momentum rolling. And while many are ready to keep fighting, the immense cost for an attorney and other legal services cannot be ignored.
“I’m glad I tried,” Betsy told me. She said she has no regrets about her involvement either. In fact, something good had come out of it: She had met a tremendous amount of people and been part of something bigger, and that is something that will remain with me as I continue my career at a newspaper reporter.
I’ll always remember cruising the state on assignment and passing a vehicle with a yellow sticker on its bumper — a sure sign that the person inside was in opposition to the project and had somehow connected with the Driftless Defenders. I’ll always remember the large signs tacked on hay wagons, dotting the countryside from Dubuque, Iowa, to Madison. And I’ll always remember the kindness that was shown to me as a reporter, even though I had been approached by people more than once to share my personal opinion about the transmission line project.
While you still won’t get that from me, I will share what I’ll remember most about this four-year stretch in my journalism career. It’s the people — and it’s the act of people coming together. Betsy said it best ... in a world where bad news is constantly surrounding us, it felt good to know there were people willing to come together around an issue.
I couldn’t agree more.