Letters From the West

BLM sticks with route through Kuna for Gateway West power line

The Bureau of Land Management stuck with unpopular routes for the Gateway West Transmission Line through Kuna, Owyhee, Cassia and Power counties in its final environmental review released Friday.

But the agency asked for more comments on a proposal to defer the final decision in areas where it has not reached consensus while allowing rights of way approval on popular routes through Wyoming to move forward. The comments on the final environmental impact statement will close in 60 days.

High Power lines going across public land (BLM photo)

High power lines going across public land (BLM photo)

The 1,100-mile, 150-180 foot high-foot-high, 500-kilovolt power line from Glenrock, Wyo., to Murphy would be built by Rocky Mountain Power and Idaho Power. It was proposed at a time when electricity demand was high and supplies were barely adequate.

The White House has identified the line as critical and made completing it a priority. In 2012 the BLM had initially approved two routes across the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey area that had been negotiated by Idaho Power, Ada and Owyhee counties and others.

But as the BLM was completing its manuals for managing the National Landscape Conservation Areas, a designation put into law by the 2009 Omnibus Lands Act, it discovered it had to “enhance” the resources the Birds of Prey area was designated for – raptors, BLM officials said.

The BLM decided it did not have time to reopen negotiations and instead chose two routes through mostly private land in Kuna, Melba and mostly public land in Owyhee County, angering residents, local and state officials. But state and Idaho Power officials have continued to mee with BLM officials in Washington seeking a way to route the lines through the Birds of Prey area.

“If we defer the decisions we anticipate meetings with the stakeholders and the proponents,” said Walt George, the BLM’s project manager. “They may provide the final resolution.”

The other areas of conflict are in Power and Cassia counties. There, the route goes through agricultural land to avoid public land that is considered core habitat for sage grouse, a species that could be listed as endangered as early as 2015.

Power and Cassia County officials said the BLM used outdated information sage grouse in making the case against alternative routes they had proposed.

“It is truly disappointing that a carefully researched route, with input from local citizens, and a historic collaboration between adjoining counties could be ignored in favor of the desire to purely avoid public land,” said Doug Balfour, a Pocatello attorney who worked with both counties on their alternative routes and comments.

 

Part of the process of deferment will be a determination that there is hope for consensus, George said. Otherwise the BLM may approve a disputed route in the final decision.

The agency has consensus on the routes through Wyoming and to Downey in Idaho, which are the route Rocky Mountain plans to build between 2015 and 2018. The Idaho segments west of Downey are not scheduled for completion until at least 2018 to 2021. When the project was first proposed it was aimed at tying in Rocky Mountain’s coal generation plants with markets West.

Now it’s wind plants that are a major factor. Idaho Power also has built its Langley Gulch natural gas power plant since then and added 100s of megawatts of wind energy.

“Since the project was proposed in 2007 we’ve seen many changes not only in the environmental issues but in the companies’ proposals,” George said.

Hearings on the proposal are scheduled for May 6 at the Boise Hotel and Conference Center on Vista and May 7 at the old gym in Kuna, Nay 8 at the Owyhee County Museum in Murphy and May 9 at the Melba High School, each from 4 to 7 p.m.

 

Rocky Barker is the energy and environment reporter for the Idaho Statesman and has been writing about the West since 1985. He is the author of Scorched Earth How the Fires of Yellowstone Changed America and co-producer of the movie Firestorm: Last Stand at Yellowstone, which was inspired by the book and broadcast on A&E Network. He also co-authored the Flyfisher's Guide to Idaho and the Wingshooter's Guide to Idaho with Ken Retallic. He also was on the Statesman’s team that covered the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news in 2007. The National Wildlife Federation awarded him its Conservation Achievement Award.

Posted in Letters from the West