BLM, utility companies scout transmission pathwayWritten by Christy Hemken
From nine public scoping meetings held throughout Idaho and Wyoming, BLM Project Manager Walt George says response as of the end of June has been low. “We had 15 or 16 people at each meeting, and only 140 people at nine meetings is a low turnout; we’ve had less than 10 comments submitted,” he says.
The project is now in the scoping period of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process and preliminary comments are due by July 3.
“We’ve had a few comments supporting the project for various reasons – one of them is it’s a way to get electrical energy out of the state to markets removed from Wyoming,” says George. “Wyoming is not a big energy-consuming state, but this would help get energy to Denver, Salt Lake City, Boise and the West Coast. More transmission from Wyoming will foster more electrical generation within the state.”
He says some of the comments have been concerned about the lines’ location and the impact to resources like national historic trails and wildlife habitat. “However, I wouldn’t characterize any of the comments as strenuously opposed to the project. People have been expressing concerns and asking some questions.”
So far the scoping process has not identified any additions to the list of issues already compiled by the BLM.
The effect of the transmission lines on private landowners will be the placement of or proximity to the new lines. “There’s a wide spectrum of folks who want or don’t want a facility on or near their property, but the utilities will pay for an easement on private land and any damage associated with constructing the project,” says George.
He says the one-time payments for easements across property are similar to those paid in town. “In town you’ve got street, sewer and other utility easements, so this is a rural variation,” he explains.
Because public and private lands are so intermixed along the lines’ route, one will not dictate placement on the other. “At the present we’re dealing with a two-mile-wide corridor, and as the utilities finalize the route and as the BLM continues with scoping we’ll be looking at a center line located on a 300-foot right-of-way and that will be the permanent easement,” says George.
One concern George mentions related to agriculture are irrigated fields with center pivots. “The pivots have been a part of the routing studies. We’re trying to avoid ag lands where there is pivot irrigation in favor of flood irrigation because we obviously can’t put a utility pole in the middle of a center pivot’s path,” he says.
Poles are placed at a rate of four per mile on average, and George says the utilities do have some flexibility to vary the distance between the towers to miss the pivots. “In a center or half pivot you’ve got the corners, so the utilities can place the towers there, but they’re looking to cross lands along ownership lines rather than diagonally to keep it simple,” explains George.
“This project, or any other project heading out of the state, could serve as a catalyst to renewable energy development within Wyoming,” says George of the transmission lines’ benefits. “Private landowners might want to see wind energy facilities on their lands with annual payments, and that’s where the benefit to private landowners comes from in this.”
After the scoping process ends July 3 the BLM will take a month to analyze the comments and produce a scoping report. Some of the issues, like the proposed route, will be finalized in an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and then George says the BLM will go into “hibernation” on the subject, at least for the public perspective.
“We’ll be preparing a draft EIS internally and we hope to have that available for review by the public in early 2009,” he says. “It’s going to take us a good six months to get the EIS put together and have the internal review.”
He says it’ll take two or three years to get through the entire project and he encourages people who are keenly interested in the project to visit the website periodically for changes and updates.
There will be a formal public comment period for 60 days following issuance of the draft EIS, which is currently planned for early 2009. During that time the public can receive and comment on the document and a series of public meetings will be held to collect further input.