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High-voltage power line through Mississippi River refuge approved by federal appeals court

The Mississippi River.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A federal appeals court has cleared the way for utilities to finish building a high-voltage power line across a Mississippi River refuge.

American Transmission Company, ITC Midwest and Dairyland Power Cooperative are in the final stages of constructing a 102-mile (164-kilometer) transmission line linking Iowa’s Dubuque County and Wisconsin’s Dane County. About a mile of the line (1.6 kilometers) would cross the Upper Mississippi River National Wildlife and Fish Refuge near Cassville, Wisconsin.

A coalition of conservation groups filed a federal lawsuit in March in hopes of stopping the crossing. The groups allege the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved the crossing in February without adequate public comment. They also maintain that the agency and the utilities improperly reached a deal calling for the utilities to transfer land to the refuge in exchange for land within the refuge for the power line.

U.S. District Judge William Conley issued a preliminary injunction blocking the land swap while he weighs the merits of the case. A three-judge panel from the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the injunction on Thursday. The panel ruled that Conley didn't find that the conservationists were likely to win the case, a mandatory determination to win a preliminary injunction.

Online court records show Conley has set a briefing schedule on the merits of the case that extends through late July, with a hearing set for Aug. 8.

It's unclear when the utilities might close the land deal and begin construction. The Associated Press sent emails seeking comment from the fish and wildlife service, Dairyland Power and ITC Midwest on Tuesday.

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