Saturday, August 31, 2013

Pasture Tramping

Eastern Black Swallowtail in Dotted Liatris
photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view) 

Whew!  Its been a bit warm and humid for us lately!  But the summer marches on and things keep evolving and finishing out - you have to keep up!

A couple days ago Georgie came in the studio to let me know there was some butterfly activity going on out there, so I grabbed the camera.  There were a couple Monarchs in the pasture and a sulphur or two, but what really caught my eye was an Eastern Black appeared to have just recently emerged because of it reluctance to take flight and its flawless marking - no frayed edges or worn markings.

I also realized the heat had spurred the Dotted Liatris (Liatris punctata) into a peak bloom.  Things can get by a person around here if they get too busy!

Eastern Black Swallowtail on Stiff Goldenrod
photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view) 

The late summer forbs are now all moving along quickly here, the most dominant this time of year are the goldenrods - we are over run with Stiff Goldenrod (Solidago rigida) unfortunately...oh it is striking and a nectar favorite for all pollinators, but it is much too aggressive and is crowding out some very nice plants. 

 Monarchs on Stiff Goldenrod in our pasture on 09-02-2009
photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view) 

At this time of the year we are usually over run with Monarchs, especially on the Stiff Goldenrod, but have only been managing one or two ever day or so...this is a disturbing  situation all over the country where they usually migrate through.  This subject is worthy of a blog entirely of its own I think. 

I've left another subject hanging in the background for a few weeks and just wanted to say that it is now "officially" proceeding.  I'll explain in a little more detail but don't want to make this too much of a soapbox as this blog is more about our place in the prairie and about my endeavors in a creative process with my artwork. 

Clean Line LLC is a corporation building large transmissions line around the country.  They are not a utility company in the states they are building, until they become franchised.  Once they become franchised in Iowa, they will have the same power of a utility, and in our case that means eminent domain.

They are building what they call the "Rock Island Clean Line".  They have been talking to the counties in NW Iowa for about 3 years or so about their proposed transmission line, so there is quite a bit of invested time for local governments and this corporation.  I only mention this "time investment" to give a background on the support for this endeavor by the county officials here in O'Brien County.  I am in the minority here if I do not support it, well I don't, so-be-it.

This transmission line would be the largest and longest to pass through Iowa.  It will be a 600kv line; would carry 1.3 times the equivalent power of the Hoover dam past our home and pasture each year.  Many things are unclear about this project, even though the "official" public informational meeting was supposed to clear things up. 
This is a "merchant line" (my words), the line is not coordinated with any existing grids in Iowa, even though it travels across 16 counties to the state of Illinois, it ties into no existing grid - it is solely being built to pick up electrons from wind power generated here in NW Iowa and sell it at higher rates in northeastern states. They do not have contracts with any wind farms in NW Iowa either; this is being built with the philosophy "if you build it they will come" in mind.

 "Waterman Morning"
photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view)  
* This is an actual location that will be clear cut in our valley
"if" the proposed line does go through.

I first heard about this line last fall when I read an article in the paper...I thought it odd at the time that we were allowing a line to be built just to take our produced power somewhere a couple thousand miles away.  Didn't we have use for power produced here ourselves?  We, after all, are so dependent on western coal for our local power...wouldn't our own wind power be beneficial and responsible for us and our region?  Then I read a quote by a county supervisor in the article.  The supervisor responded to a question or supposition by someone asking whether someone might object to the line going through their property, the supervisor responded by saying  (I'll paraphrase) "There's nothing in the county that a transmission line would bother."  That really got my attention!  I wrote Clean Lines LLC right away and asked them to please not take those supervisor words to heart - that there was indeed much in the SE corner townships that a transmission line could hurt or disrupt!  These two townships carry 99.9% of the entire county's natural heritage.

 Great Blue Heron
photograph - © Bruce A. Morrison
(click on image for a larger view)  
*The largest rookery of these birds in the state of Iowa (west of the
Mississippi River) will be disrupted "if" the proposed 
line does go through.

I thought at the time that this line was a done deal...the media reported it in that vein.  Well when we got a certified letter this July, telling us the transmission line would have its easement on our south pasture and would be 466 feet from our house, and pass across the valley past the largest Great Blue Heron rookery in Iowa, west of the Mississippi River, and through the northern most prairie remnants still found in this county - I began researching the corporation, its goals and its "behavior" and opposition in other states it is running through. I have serious doubts now as to how much "checking around" the local county officials did themselves with this corporation. 

Clean Line LLC has been working in Illinois much longer at trying to receive a "franchise" status than it has in Iowa, because Illinois' utility regulations are much stricter than Iowa...they have been having quite a time there and the dockets in the Illinois testimony records are quite a read.  But this is the early stage for Iowa - out of the 16 counties it will pass through, there are still 10 counties that have not heard of any routes...there are still a lot of people who are unaware of their property's potential future.  

We are talking very large poles and/or towers.  They would all require blinking aerial lights.  The registered documents required in Illinois state that they could use grid towers of "200-240 feet or more"...a definite flight hazard for herons in a rookery access path and a definite "footprint" hazard for any prairie remnant in its path. (Just for reference - the statue of Liberty is 150 feet tall)  Oh, we were told at our public meeting on August 20th that this would have no affect on our property value...Uh...ya, the county will still tax you "as if" the transmission line and tower didn't exist, But...try convincing someone to buy that tower and huge lines too, when you try to sell your house!  Also, our studio is very much a "destination" business and that would inevitably suffer as well.

The corporation could not give any clients listed to hook onto their line when questioned at the public meeting.  They used the "patriotic American" card when asked why we could not use our area's wind farm electron production for "our region".  Is it unpatriotic to produce enough electrons for 1.4 million homes and not use it in our own region?  It certainly isn't "clean" energy when we have to use western coal here and not our own wind energy - its especially not clean to have to ship our electrons east when they are already needed here!!!

A large wind farm that was about to build in this area was just bought up by Mid American Energy (a franchised Iowa utility).  They just announced plans to build 600 or so wind towers.  Are they hooking up to Clean Line LLC?  No - they upgraded existing grids and are transmitting it themselves.  That makes perfect sense.

I won't dally further in this discussion, it is deeper than I've taken you so far, and its obvious where I stand.  If you are an Iowa resident and are possibly in one of the 16 Iowa counties or would just like to help us keep truly "clean" transmission in this state and our region - you can fill out an Objection Form with the Iowa Utilities Board using their electronic filing system online at or by clicking on the link on their web site at  You can also support the grass roots organization which is forming across the entire state - The Preservation of Rural Iowa Alliance...become a member or just make a small donation to their cause - their link is here -    You can e-mail me if you have any questions about this at all. 

Thank you for being patient with me.  And thank you for your support.

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