GEI completed ecological and land-use surveys of an approximately 21.4-mile-long transmission line corridor, laydown yards, off right-of-way access routes, and the surrounding landscape beyond the right-of-way.
All wetland areas within the project area were cataloged as instructed by the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Wetland Delineation Manual. Field-surveyed wetlands were also typically supported with initial research of the project area with mapped hydric soils by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Web Soil Survey and mapped wetlands by Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) Wisconsin Wetland Inventory. Any land-use type, such as wetlands, uplands, agriculture (none present), and urban lands occurring within the project area were categorized (i.e. commercial vs. residential) and mapped to measure total acreage. The project area wetlands, grasslands, and upland forests were characterized and documented based on the WDNR Natural Heritage Inventory classification system. Any residential structure within 300-feet and any cell tower within a mile of the project centerline were also recorded for inclusion in the Certificate of Authority (CA) application tables. All data collected for the project was completed in accordance with the CA filing requirements with the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSCW). The field data collected in conjunction with desktop reviews of available data were utilized to draft the environmental sections of the CA application that was submitted to the PSCW for approval.
Permitting support for the project included drafting and submitting state and federal permits in addition to identifying local (county and municipality) permit requirements. Local permits were not needed due to exemptions from the PSCW, although the permits that would have otherwise been needed were identified by GEI for inclusion in the CA application. GEI did prepare a wetland permit package that was submitted to the WDNR as part of the CA application and a separate USACE wetland permit. A WDNR construction site stormwater and erosion control permit was drafted, submitted, and approved after GEI worked closely with construction and vegetation management contractors to assess potential ground disturbing project impacts.
The southern portion of the project occurs on Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) managed lands. Alterations to the type of transmission line structures and location resulted in the need to perform an environmental review and updated FERC Exhibits. FERC environmental review consisted of updating the existing FERC license for the Caldron Falls Hydroelectric Dam to support the changes that would occur in the FERC land based on an American Transmission Company transmission line reconstruction project. Transmission line and pole locations will change location, causing potential impacts to the FERC lands and the environment. To address the project impacts, an environmental review document was drafted. The environmental review included assessing environmental aspects of a site and potential impacts to resources, including, but not limited to, historic resources, threatened and endangered species, wildlife and wildlife habitat, wetlands, waterways, invasive species, recreation, construction details, erosion control, and more. A detailed recreation plan was created and approved by FERC to address the temporary impacts to recreation in the area that would be caused by construction. The recreation plan included alternative portage locations for water recreation users, a communication plan to the public, and a public notice of proposed impacts and timing.
GEI reviewed sensitive and endangered resources present near the corridor due to WDNR regulations, federal regulations, and CA filing requirements. GEI staff members that are certified to conduct WDNR Endangered Resource Reviews (ERR) conducted a screening of the project. The possible presence of several threatened and endangered species was revealed by the ERR. GEI conducted surveys for state endangered and then federally endangered Kirtland’s Warbler (Setophaga kirtlandii), state threatened Red-Shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus), and state special concern Northern Goshawk (Accipiter gentilis). Surveys for these species have unique protocols that GEI staff is familiar and experienced with. Surveys for these species and their acceptable habitats helped the client plan construction timing and efficiency and avoid impacts on the species, while following state and federal regulations and CA filing requirements. GEI worked with the client and the construction contractor, and Marinette County to relocate an Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) nest on a structure to be replaced. GEI recommended a location outside the required disturbance buffer for this species and observed behavior of the birds during construction. Due to this partnership spurred by GEI’s expertise in avian behavior, construction remained on schedule and followed WDNR regulations, and the Ospreys successfully fledged young. GEI also planned and monitored Wood Turtle (Glyptemys insculpta) exclusion, fencing in multiple locations along the corridor to adhere to regulations that are in place due to multiple element occurrences. GEI conducted routine monitoring of the fences, turtle sweeps when work must occur in fenced areas, and trained construction and vegetation management crew members on identification and avoidance measures required for this species. The client and its contractors were able to plan project work accordingly in these areas without losing efficiency while following WDNR regulations and avoiding negative species impacts. GEI threatened and endangered species experts specialize in project planning and quick action when unpredictable project issues arise.