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On the defense: Sheboygan County residents fight power company over property, environment

Sheboygan County residents fight to protect their land.
Posted at 10:08 AM, Jul 05, 2024

THE PEOPLE

Kristi Pietsch-Sorenson was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis over 30 years ago — affecting her ability to walk — but she said it's made her a better and more motivated person.

She uses her track chair to enjoy her 40-acre property in Waldo, Wisconsin.

Kristi Pietsch-Sorenson

"Everybody goes on vacation other places. I say this is my place of vacation," Sorenson said.

But her little slice of paradise may be tainted with transmission lines and poles from power companyATC's Plymouth Reliability Project (PRP).

It's an effort to make power more accessible and reliable to four main areas: The ANR natural gas pipeline, DNR fish hatchery, Kettle Moraine Correctional Institution and the Town of Mitchell.

But residents like Sorenson, whose homes sit on the planned power line route, are on the defense to protect their land.

SEE MORE: A SHOCKING REALITY: Proposed power lines threaten multi-generational, award-winning farm

A SHOCKING REALITY: Proposed power lines threaten multi-generational, award-winning farm

In her case, ATC would erect two large poles in the front yard, cut down rows of trees on either side of the property and run power lines right past her bedroom window.

"Having the home is my ultimate. I love it here. And I don't want it destroyed," she said through tears.

In 2018, Sorenson put a conservation easement on her land to preserve the farm that's been in her family nearly a century.

Pietsch Farm - Waldo, WI

It's supposed to block any new construction or major changes that aren't consistent with the original state of the property, including power lines.

I reached out to ATC for comment on the issue.

The team responded:

Yes, ATC can construct a power line on land with a conservation easement… [It] would occupy 3.4% of the 40-acre parcel.
ATC

ATC stated it tried to compromise with Sorenson, but she wouldn't budge.

"I don't plan on moving, but I don't feel we're going to lose."

Sorenson is a part of the community group formed in opposition to the PRP — Neighbors for Neighbors (NforN).

Although ATC sent out fliers in the mail, NforN members say they didn't receive enough information or notice about the transmission line project, so they banded together last-minute at the end of February.

But the first half of the Reliability Project was already in motion.

About a week later, the Public Service Commission of Wisconsin approved a substation, the electricity transmitter connected to the power lines.

Watch: What Sheboygan County residents are trying to protect.

Sheboygan County residents fight power company over property, environment

NforN has suggested alternate routes for the transmission line, but ATC claims their research gives them only two viable options for the Public Service Commission to vote on.

"Constantly, neighbors are pitted against neighbors, in terms of nobody wants it on their property," explained Patricia Roby, another resident whose land is in jeopardy from the power lines.

She's lived on her land for over 40 years, during which she's planted more than five dozen trees to help local wildlife thrive.

Pat Roby

The ATC project puts targets on about 60 percent of those trees.

"I'm losing rights, I'm losing property, I'm losing the animals, the birds," she explained. "And there's no reason for that."

THE ENVIRONMENT

The affected residents aren't the only ones fighting for land preservation.

Cheryl Nenn with the Milwaukee Riverkeeper is working with NforN, but on behalf of natural resources in the area.

Cheryl Nenn, Milwaukee Riverkeeper

Nichols Creek is one of those, and what the Riverkeepers know to be a rare "outstanding resource water" for its biodiversity and cleanliness.

Of the 110 bodies of water they test in the Milwaukee Basin, Nichols Creek ranks number one for high quality streams.

"There are only a handful of these streams probably left in Southeast Wisconsin," Nenn noted.

The creek is dependent on its bordering trees for temperature control and natural filtration, but ATC plans to cut about 10 acres of them down, as well as remove about three-and-a-half acres of wetland areas.

Nenn said these act as the river's kidneys, filtering polluted water before it enters the stream.

"It's high stakes for this little, very special creek."

Plymouth Reliability Project

ATC's preferred transmission route (in blue) would directly affect Nichols Creek, but there would be similar consequences to the alternate route (in pink) which crosses the Onion River.

NforN members said the routes they proposed would avoid the waterways completely.

ATC acknowledged that projects like these have certain effects on communities, but it's trying to minimize the residential and environmental impacts as much as possible.

Sorenson and the others aren't ready to waive their white flags just yet.

She said just like her MS motivates her to beat the odds, so does the urgency to save her land.

"I will do everything I have to fight against this because it's wrong," Sorenson insisted. "[ATC] has other opportunities to go other ways and they're not taking them."