BOISE, ID – This week we''re breaking down a plan to build a new transmission line through Southern Idaho. It''s called the Gateway West Project. Wednesday we heard from Idaho Power about what this project is about. Not everyone favors the 11-hundred mile long line. Today we hear from some of the people who want to see the power lines put elsewhere.
On the map, Gateway West cuts right through Power and Cassia Counties in Southeast Idaho. Sometimes it travels on public land, sometimes on private land, including farm land. Many farmers don’t like the idea.
Brent Stoker “It would annihilate our farm.”
Brent Stoker is a farmer and dairyman in Cassia county. He grows corn and hay for his cows. He raises potatoes and sugar beets. He says one proposed route would send transmission lines right through his property.
Brent Stoker “Cutting through our dairy, cutting through our houses, cutting through our farm fields in multiple places would make it impossible for our farm to ever be a farm again.”
Stoker Chairs the Cassia County Gateway West Task Force. That’s a group appointed by county commissioners to study the transmission line. For three years, he’s looked at the issues that would affect residents of Cassia county.
Brent Stoker “The proposed line hits not only our fields, our irrigation systems, barns, calving areas, cows that are more sensitive to the electricity then we people are but you have several occupied homes that would pass very close, within 300 feet, that are of huge concerns as far as living underneath them and long-term exposure.”
These are some of the concerns Vicki Meadows has heard as well.
Vicki Meadows “It’s going to cost more to farm and going to devalue property in our county.”
Meadows is a Power County Commissioner.
Vicki Meadows “They’re hard to farm around, they interrupt the ability to use irrigation, they interrupt the ability to use GIS on tractors, it’s just a very great inconvenience.”
Meadows says the line will effect more than just farm land.
Vicki Meadows “People don’t want to live around them, people don’t want to look at them, they interfere with hunting, they’re proposed to cross the Snake River at probably one of the most scenic parts of the Snake River and probably one of the best fisheries.”
Both Stoker and Meadows want to move the proposed route. Stoker says the line through Cassia county cuts across too much private land.
Brent Stoker “Public power should be based on public ground, we believe, especially in the state of Idaho where 65 percent of our total acreage is public ground.”
Stoker’s task force came up with an alternative that would put more of the line on public land. Idaho Power says it adds fifty miles to the route and that’s too expensive. Each mile of transmission line can cost from one to two million dollars. So Stoker went back to the drawing board and has a shorter proposal.
Brent Stoker “There has to be a happy medium here and so we’re out to try and make a success of it, we’re not just trying to derail it, we believe it has to happen.”
The county’s viewpoint is important to Gateway West. That’s because they have the final permitting authority. Idaho Power can invoke imminent domain if it can’t come to an agreement with a private property owner. But if a county balks at the plan, Idaho Power won’t get its permit.
Vicki Meadows “I suppose if it came down to the wire, we could deny that special use permit. I don’t want to go to that step, I would like Idaho Power to come and sit down and actually find some compromise.”
Compromise is still possible, says Brent Stoker. He says Idaho Power has been willing to listen. But an announcement earlier this month has him worried. The Obama Administration wants to speed up both the permitting and the construction of seven proposed lines across the country, including Gateway West.
Brent Stoker “They are trying to put it on fast track and we’re afraid that might mean hardly any local input.”
Much of that “fast track” would involve streamlining federal agency involvement. That means less red tape. But Stoker worries the federal government may try to override what should be a local decision.
Brent Stoker “We have appreciated the process thus far, that at least they have listened. Our concerns for the future is that the Obama Administration gonna just wipe out all of our efforts for three years and say we know better in Washington DC.”
Earlier this month, Power and Cassia Counties sent a letter to the Public Utilities Commission that says the project isn’t needed because energy demand has dropped with a sluggish economy. Idaho Power says it is still committed to the Project . The first part of the transmission line could be built in four or five years.
The Bureau of Land Management is taking public comments on the draft environmental impact statement, or EIS, for Gateway West. The comment period ends Friday. The final EIS should come out in about a year. That will clear the way for Idaho Power and Rocky Mountain Power to build on public land. Then private landowners and counties will have reach agreement with the two companies.