FOA Board Responds to Proposed ATC Transmission Line


The Friends of the Arboretum Board has issued a written statement in response to the proposed ATC Rockdale-Middleton transmission line. The Board felt it was important to take a stance on this issue, because one of the proposed routes for the line runs adjacent to Arboretum land.

The following statement has been filed with the Wisconsin Public Service Commission. Individuals can post comments on the proposed transmission line by visiting

Text of Statement:

This statement expresses the concerns of the Board of Directors of the Friends of the Arboretum (the “Board”) with regards to the 345 kilowatt transmission line (the “Line”) that the American Transmission Company (“ATC”) is seeking to place through Dane County between Middleton and the Town of Christiana.

As described in detail below the Board believes that the construction of the Line in close proximity to UW Arboretum land would harm the environment, endanger animal and plant species living in the Arboretum, and greatly alter the natural aesthetic that visitors to the Arboretum currently enjoy.

Further, the Board questions the need for the Line given that recent energy data show a slowing of demand for energy (see and the tremendous potential of advances in renewable energy.

The Wisconsin Public Service Commission (the “PSC”) is currently considering ATC’s application to construct the Line along one of two proposed routes: the “Beltline Route,” which would run along the Beltline including the portion that bisects the UW Arboretum or a southern route which would run through rural areas as well as villages, towns and cities. If the Beltline Route is selected the support towers of the Line would be 120 feet tall and rise 100 feet over the tree line of the Arboretum.

The UW-Madison Arboretum is a world class research center for ecological restoration and is home to the oldest prairie planting in the world, Curtis Prairie. The Arboretum’s mission is “to conserve and restore Arboretum lands, advance restoration ecology and foster the land ethic.” If the Line is approved and the Beltline Route is selected, the Arboretum’s mission could be jeopardized.

First, the construction of the Line and the presence of a large corridor created by the Line adjacent to the Arboretum, may introduce additional invasive species to the Arboretum. This is significant because research data show that there has been an increasing trend in numerous invasive species on Curtis Prairie which is reducing its biological diversity (Snyder, T.A. III. 2004. A Spatial Analysis of Grassland Species Richness in Curtis Prairie. Master’s Thesis, University WI-Madison).

Second, the Arboretum is home to over 220 resident and migratory bird species and several species of bats, some of which might be killed by electrocution or collision with overhead transmission lines erected along the beltline. Moreover, the Arboretum is home to a wide range of animal and plant species, sixteen of which appear on the Wisconsin Endangered and Threatened Species List and one of those is also listed on the Federal Threatened List.

Next, the potential for exacerbating the Arboretum’s problems with urban storm water runoff is of great concern. The University of Wisconsin, municipalities and Wisconsin Department of Transportation have devoted considerable effort to mitigate adverse impacts of storm water on the Arboretum. The re-engineering of storm water detention facilities on Arboretum land provides an opportunity to expand existing areas of restored prairie towards the Beltline, however, it is unclear if this is operationally feasible. An overhead transmission line may handicap the ability to use prescribed fire as an essential management tool.

Finally, the support towers would have serious negative aesthetic consequences. The Arboretum is a highly prized community resource. Its role as a refuge of tranquility nested within an urban landscape would be diminished, as would its significance as a setting for nature education, if overhead transmission lines were erected. Further, the Arboretum is currently seeking designation as a National Historic Landmark in recognition of its historic, cultural, scientific and environmental significance. This will serve as prelude to seeking designation as a World Heritage Site, which first requires National Historic Landmark designation. Both of these efforts could be frustrated by bisection of the property with an overhead transmission line.

The Board urges the PSC to deny ATC’s request to build the Line. The construction of the Line would have negative environmental and aesthetic consequences without regard to the route selected. If the Line is approved, the Board urges the PSC to protect Arboretum lands by routing the Line away from the Arboretum or at least mitigate some of the concerns described above by burying the portion of the Line that would run adjacent to the Arboretum.

Located between Lake Wingra and the West Beltline Highway at 1207 Seminole Highway, the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum features the restored prairies, forests and wetlands of pre-settlement Wisconsin. This 1,260-acre arboretum also houses flowering trees, shrubs and a world-famous lilac collection. Educational tours for groups and the general public, science and nature-based classes for all ages and abilities, and a wide variety of volunteer opportunities for groups, families and individuals are available.