by Charlie Luthin
Two major gas pipeline projects- one under construction, one in the permit stage-will result in considerable impacts to scarce wetlands in southeastern Wisconsin. The “Guardian,” a 141-mile 36-inch pipeline that passes from Joliet, Illinois through two southern Wisconsin counties-Walworth and Jefferson-will be directly impacting 60 total wetland acres on 45 wetland crossings. Furthermore, the pipeline crosses 36 waterways, meaning that the riverbanks and adjoining ecosystems will be heavily disturbed in order to lay the pipe through or under the waterway. Whereas the Guardian staff have argued that there will be no permanent impact to the wetlands since the excavated trench is temporary, we are certain that the impacts will be extensive and in some cases, permanent. The indirect impacts are considerable and at present, immeasurable.
The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has already granted permits for the Guardian pipeline and it is being constructed at a frantic pace. A crew of 700 is working diligently to meet an unrealistic timeline for completion, and in the process is being careless and irresponsible in observing permit conditions that would offer modest protection to the wetland and river resources. During a visit to four different wetland sites by WWA staff and board chair Alice Thompson, together with DNR personnel, seven permit violations and a serious violation of state law were observed. Landowners along the route have repeatedly shared observations of permit violations, with little response by the water regulatory staff of DNR. As of this writing, no enforcement action has been taken, weeks after the discovery of violations.
Unfortunately, we are seeing a double standard for wetland protection by the DNR in Wisconsin-stricter measures for the “little guy” while large construction projects continue to destroy and impact wetlands unabated. The Guardian pipeline and associated “lateral” pipeline project (35 miles) that extends eastward will undoubtedly represent the single largest cumulative impact to wetlands over the next year in Wisconsin. The lateral pipeline is in the final stages of planning, and the company is seeking a permit for the nearly finalized route.WWA is arguing that the route selected will directly impact considerably more wetlands than is necessary, and is trying to have the route altered.