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Chuck Miller, Winona Daily News 

A crew from Erickson Aviation Services lowers part of a steel tower into place for the Badger Coulee transmission line near Taylor, Wis.

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Air lift: High-voltage transmission line takes shape in Jackson County hills

TAYLOR — Despite an ongoing legal challenge, a new high-voltage power line is taking shape in Jackson County with some help from above.

A crew piloting a massive helicopter spent the week erecting steel towers along a roughly eight-mile stretch of rugged terrain between Black River Falls and Blair for the project known as Badger Coulee.

Chuck Miller, Winona Daily News 

A crew from Erickson Aviation Services lowers part of a steel tower into place for the Badger Coulee transmission line near Taylor, Wis.

A joint venture of American Transmission Co. and utilities including Xcel and La Crosse-based Dairyland Power Cooperative, the 180-mile line between La Crosse and Madison will connect to the new CapX2020 high-voltage line, which brings power from Minnesota.

ATC says it will lower electricity costs and improve reliability while delivering cheap, clean wind energy. Opponents argue it’s an unnecessary expense that will guarantee profits for the owners while discouraging conservation and local renewable energy investments.

The costs will be shared by electricity customers in 15 Midwestern states and one Canadian province. The cost to Wisconsin consumers is estimated at about $5 million.

While most of the steel towers, which stretch up to 165 feet into the air, are assembled with cranes, ATC’s contractors are using Erickson Aviation Services’ S-64 Skycrane to place structures in hard-to-reach places.

“This is hill country,” project construction manager Ken Jaquet said while navigating an icy dirt access road winding through the right-of-way.

While a ground crew can put up two or three structures a day, the helicopter can do up to nine.

“Of course there’s a cost,” Jaquet added.

With the ability to lift a 25,000-pound load, the Skycrane burns about 800 gallons of fuel per hour, and costs mount by the minute.

Chuck Miller, Winona Daily News 

An S-64 Skycrane operated by Erickson Aviation Services prepares to take off during construction of the Badger Coulee transmission line near Taylor, Wis.

According to a quarterly report filed this week with state regulators, the project is on schedule to be in service by December and is about $20 million under the approved budget of $581 million.

ATC has begun clearing some right-of-way in La Crosse and Trempealeau counties, though the company has yet to secure all the necessary easements. Negotiations with landowners is also continuing in Juneau, Monroe and Jackson counties. Crews have also finished grading land near the Briggs Road substation in Holmen.

Construction is largely complete on the portion of the line south of Wisconsin Dells, and a small segment of the line in Dane County was electrified in October.

Appeals court weighs challenge

Meanwhile the Wisconsin Court of Appeals is considering a challenge from the town of Holland, which sought to overturn the Wisconsin Public Service Commission’s approval of the project as well as its decision to route the line along the Hwy. 53 corridor, parallel to the CapX line but on separate poles — often on either side of the highway.

La Crosse County Judge Todd Bjerke denied the town’s primary claim but found the PSC’s siting decision lacked “any rational basis” and ordered the commission to reconsider requests to put both lines on the same towers.

The town appealed, arguing the PSC’s determination of necessity — the basic requirement for allowing a project to be constructed at ratepayer expense — was based on an incorrect interpretation of state law. The PSC also appealed Bjerke’s order to reconsider the route.

The town’s key argument is one that opponents of the line have made all along: that it does not meet the statutory requirements of such a large expenditure.

Under state law, the Public Service Commission may only approve a project of this scope, which is ultimately paid for by utility customers, if it “satisfies the reasonable needs of the public for an adequate supply of electric energy.”

Just three years earlier, the PSC had granted ATC permission to build CapX2020 on the grounds that it was needed to ensure reliability for the La Crosse area. When it came to Badger Coulee, the commission instead found the project would provide “reliability benefits.”

Town attorney Frank Jablonski argues that La Crosse’s needs were already met by the CapX line.

The project owners — and the PSC — contend Badger Coulee will be needed to meet peak demand within a decade.

The PSC also says projects can satisfy “the reasonable needs of the public” in different ways. By using the plural word “needs,” the Commission argues, the Legislature recognized that different energy needs can be satisfied by different types of projects.

According to the PSC, state law requires judges to defer to the Commission’s expertise in making decisions, saying it’s not the court’s place to set state energy policy or to decide if the project is in the public interest.

The town also contests the secondary rationale — that building Badger-Coulee would offset the need for $190 million in other work.

“It is manifestly irrational to spend (approximately) $600+ million to solve problems that even the Project’s proponents can only ascribe a cost of less than $200 million,” the brief states.

The PSC notes that those avoided costs are in addition to net economic benefits, which it estimates will result in savings of $118 million and $702 million for consumers.

With no fuel costs, wind energy can offset the need for more expensive power sources, such as coal. There are significant wind resources in Minnesota and the Dakotas, but there aren’t enough high-voltage lines to efficiently send that electricity to more densely populated areas in Wisconsin.

It’s estimated that Badger Coulee will allow the development of about 2,750 megawatts of new wind generation capacity, equal to roughly a third of Wisconsin’s current coal-fired capacity.

Photos: Badger Coulee construction in Jackson County(tncms-asset)20079f64-0860-11e8-9883-00163ec2aa77[3](/tncms-asset)

Chuck Miller, Winona Daily News 

An S-64 Skycrane operated by Erickson Aviation Services prepares to take off during construction of the Badger Coulee transmission line near Taylor, Wis.

Super Fan: 81-year-old has attended every Super Bowl

PORTLAND, Maine — Donald Crisman has more than a half-century of Super Bowl memories behind him, from taking a 24-hour train ride to Super Bowl II to seeing his beloved New England Patriots win in overtime last year.

But he says the 52nd Super Bowl featuring the Philadelphia Eagles and the Patriots on Sunday just might be his final big game.

The 81-year-old resident of Kennebunk, Maine, is a member of the ever-shrinking “Never Miss a Super Bowl Club” that’s attended every season finale since its inception in 1967. He has bought his own ticket every year except one.

Crisman was featured in a 2010 Visa commercial along with three friends who had attended every Super Bowl. He is attending this game with a heavy heart because friend Larry Jacobson of San Francisco died last fall. Crisman said attending the game without Larry would be different, and he might not have gone if the Patriots weren’t in it.

He shared some of his favorite memories with The Associated Press.

Last time in Minneapolis

Crisman prefers the warmer venues for the Super Bowl. But he has fond memories of the last Super Bowl in Minneapolis — in 1992 at the now-gone Metrodome.

He has a hat from the game bearing the Super Bowl XXVI logo that was signed by Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs, quarterback Mark Rypien and wide receiver Gary Clark. He is bringing it with him to this year’s game at U.S. Bank Stadium, built on the site of the old Metrodome, to “show and tell it.”

Super Bowl that almost wasn’t

Crisman’s trip to the second Super Bowl in 1968 was an odyssey. He had made arrangements to take a private plane to the game in Miami, but an ice storm made it impossible to fly.

Crisman was undaunted and managed to find a train that took 24 hours to get to Miami. “I can’t believe how many times that train stopped,” he said. “It was agonizing, to say the least.”

Favorite venues

The Miami area, which will set a record by hosting its 11th Super Bowl in 2020, is Crisman’s favorite place to see the game. He’s also a fan of San Diego, which has hosted three times.

Crisman is “not a fan of these winter bowls,” occasionally held at indoor stadiums in Indianapolis, Detroit and Minneapolis. But when asked about his worst experience at a Super Bowl venue, he cannot think of one.

Top plays

The Rhode Island native has been a Patriots fan since the team’s inception in 1960, so his favorite Super Bowl play of all time is fittingly James White’s overtime, game-winning touchdown last year. Previously, he was the subject of endless teasing because his favorite plays were a pair of field goals.

Specifically, field goals that won Super Bowls for the Patriots in 2002 and 2004.

“I’ve been laughed at and kind of ridiculed. ‘You can’t have a field goal be your favorite play,’” he said. “Well, I do.”

Will he keep going?

Crisman’s crew at the Super Bowl included Jacobson and Pittsburgh Steelers fan Tom Henschel and Green Bay Packers fan Bob Cook, who also had attended every game. But the group has dwindled to just him and Henschel after the death of Jacobson last year and Cook, who died in 2011. He’s welcoming Jacobson’s daughter Heather on Sunday and expects to shed a few tears when she sits in what would have been her dad’s seat.

His son, Don Jr., called his dad “the most consistent force in football.” He said it will be different when his father no longer goes to the big game. After 51 Super Bowls and counting, the elder Crisman said that day might be coming soon.

“I’m thinking about it,” he said. “But this year, I’m taking the Patriots.”

Erik Daily, La Crosse Tribune 

Aquinas' Taylor Theusch drives around Onalaska's Olivia Gamoke in the first half of Friday night's game. Aquinas beat the Hilltoppers 64-57.

US economy creates 200,000 jobs in January; wages take off

WASHINGTON (TNS) — The labor market got off to strong start in 2018 as employers added a larger-than-expected 200,000 jobs to payrolls and wage gains accelerated in January to the fastest annual pace since the recovery began, the Labor Department said Friday.

The nation’s unemployment rate held steady at a 17-year low of 4.1 percent for the fourth straight month.

The sustained low unemployment and solid job growth show that the U.S. economy is performing well and that the tightening labor market may finally be starting to push up wages.

Average hourly earnings for all private-sector workers last month were up 2.9 percent from January 2017, the largest year-over-year percentage gain since June 2009, when the economy emerged from the Great Recession.

Policymakers at the Federal Reserve have been looking for wage pressures to build, and the latest jobs report could be a sign of rising inflation and higher interest rates to come. The central bank held its benchmark rate steady earlier this week, but Friday’s report is likely to increase the odds of a rate hike in March.

The hiring last month exceeded most analysts’ forecast for job growth of about 175,000 in January, which was right around the monthly average increase for last year.

January’s job gains were widespread, with construction, food services and health care industries leading the way. Manufacturing also continued a yearlong pattern of solid hiring, adding a net 15,000 new jobs last month.

Most analysts are expecting the pace of job growth to slow this year but to remain well above the 80,000-to-100,000 range needed to absorb new entrants to the labor market and keep the unemployment rate from rising.

Many experts expect the jobless rate to fall to below 4 percent this year, and that should benefit more groups of workers with historically high unemployment. In January, the jobless figure for blacks rose to 7.7 percent after falling to a record low of 6.8 percent in December, a level that prompted President Trump to frequently highlight the economic progress under his watch.

Jobless rates for groups can be volatile, and last month’s figures included annual population adjustments by the Labor Department that make for difficult comparisons with the prior month.

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'Hatched Baby' sculpture finds home outside La Crosse City Hall

After months of labor, “Hatched Baby” is nearly ready for visitors after a city committee Friday approved its placement in the southeastern lawn of La Crosse City Hall.

“We have finally, so-to-speak, put the baby to bed,” said La Crosse Arts Board chairman Doug Weidenbach.

The rest of the board applauded decision on where to place the fiberglass sculpture — created by Friedberg, Germany, artist Wolfgang Auer. The board has been considering the question since September.

The 9-foot-tall sculpture of a blue baby sitting in a white eggshell — now in a Myrick Park shelter — will be moved sometime before mid-March, when the city’s parks department needs to get the shelter ready for spring.

There are some administrative tasks to complete before it’s moved, such as making sure it’s properly insured and arranging transportation, but Mayor Tim Kabat confirmed Friday that his office is working with the parks department to get the sculpture placed.

“The Blue Baby is coming,” said Kabat.

After the arts board’s self-imposed March deadline last month, the mayor spoke with the board about the possibility of placing the sculpture at City Hall as a way of honoring the artist, who is from La Crosse’s German sister city of Friedberg. It will be displayed in the green space off Sixth Street, near the butterfly garden installed last year.

“People can see it, which is the point of art after all,” Weidenbach said.

Arts board member Jennifer Terpstra suggested the board hold a reception to let the public see the baby once it’s in place.

While Weidenbach acknowledged that some people consider it controversial, he was pleased to see it sparked a public conversation about art and what it means.

“That is part and parcel what it means to create art,” Weidenbach said.

Board members and city staff are looking into the possibility of some sort of plaque explaining where “Hatched Baby” came from and Auer’s intentions in creating it.

“It’s a win-win for everybody, whether you like it or not,” Weidenbach added.

Council member Roger Christians, who is on the arts board, suggested the city send photos and a letter of thanks to the artist after the piece is in place.

“If we had not put this somewhere, it would have been a shame,” Christians said.

The sculpture is on temporary loan and will eventually be returned to Friedberg.