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Power line work delayed due to concerns over protected birds

Henslow's Sparrow (Ammodramus henslowii) Perched on stem, Ohio (Photo by: Minden Pictures/AP Images)

Henslow’s Sparrow (Photo by Minden Pictures/AP Images)

LA CROSSE, Wis. (AP) — The construction of a portion of a major high-voltage power line connecting Minnesota and Wisconsin is on hold due to concerns about nesting by protected bird species.

A 3-mile stretch of the line in an area near Onalaska that’s owned and managed by the Mississippi Valley Conservancy contains 11 species of concern, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. Two of the bird species — Henslow’s sparrow and Bell’s vireo — are classified as threatened.

Abbie Church, conservation director of the La Crosse-based nonprofit, said she noticed last month that crews working in the area were ignoring a restriction on construction activities during nesting season, which typically runs from April through July.

“The unfortunate thing is that we worked so hard to ensure that the easement include provisions to account for the rare birds so they would not be disturbed,” Church said Monday. “So it’s very disappointing to see that a legal document such as that was just blatantly disregarded.”

Xcel Energy mistakenly provided workers with the wrong information about which kinds of activities are prohibited in the area, according to project manager Grant Stevenson. The utility has checked construction activities in both states and confirmed no other instances of work taking place in areas containing protected species, he said.

“This is the first time in about 600 miles under construction or completed that we’ve had any kind of issue like this,” said Tim Carlsgaard, an Xcel and CapX 2020 spokesman.

The Wisconsin portion of Xcel Energy’s $500 million project, which links the La Crosse area and Rochester, Minn., is slated for completion in September. But the timeline may change, depending on whether the Wisconsin Public Service Commission approves the utility’s request to resume the construction of a 2-mile stretch of the project where a wildlife biologist hired by Xcel found no evidence of protected birds.

The entire 345,000-volt power line project is expected to be complete next year.

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