Why The Feds Approval Of A Massive Power Line Excludes Part Of Idaho Route

Nov 15, 2013

Jim Fincher is the District Manager for the Boise BLM District Office
Credit Samantha Wright / Boise State Public Radio

The Bureau of Land Management Tuesday approved most of a 990-mile-long power line that's being built on public land. But a section of the line, about 295 miles in Idaho, were deferred. That means the BLM will hold off on the OK for that area until stakeholders along the line’s route can come to a consensus.

The Gateway West project will run from Wyoming across southern Idaho. It's an effort between Idaho Power and Rocky Mountain Power.

It's one of seven priority projects for the Obama administration, which wants to speed up the permitting of new transmission lines to strengthen the western grid.

Bureau of Land Management District Manager Jim Fincher has been working with the Idaho stakeholders in the areas where the power line will travel. He says Gateway West means a lot for Idaho and the Western power grid.

“There’s a lot of wind power development occurring here in Idaho and there’s a lot more opportunity,” says Fincher. “This line provides the infrastructure necessary to be able efficiently integrate that into our usage here in Idaho. It allows us, during peak demands for the need of irrigation and other opportunities here in Idaho, to bring energy in from other states and to share our energy with those states when they have their high demands. It will enhance our efficiency in electrical transmission across the West. As our country grows and that demand grows, this sets us up for being successful and meeting those demands.

Q. The transmission line is broken down into 10 segments. Eight of those got the green light, two of those got deferred. Where are the two deferred segments, eight and nine?

A. The areas that are authorized for construction at this point, will end at Midpoint and Cedar Hill here in Idaho. So for those points westward, through Elmore, Owyhee, Ada, and Canyon counties, those routes will be what we’re looking at, routes eight and nine. The issue is how do we route those two lines around or through the Morley Nelson Birds of Prey National Conservation Area or NCA.

Q. That’s the big sticking point. The BLM is concerned about the habitat and the private landowners are concerned about their private land and we have dissension there.

A. That’s correct, yes. The goal for a lot of these transmission lines is to place them as much as possible on public land. And we see as part of our multiple use mission that that’s an appropriate use of public lands, but where we have these National Conservation Areas, our requirements and laws and regulations, we want to make sure there’s not better places to put it rather than impacting those special areas. The birds of prey area for raptor habitat is a very special place. So, the legislation that established that, recognizes activities  need to protect, or conserve, or enhance the habitat. That’s what we need to have further consideration of, is how can the power line, if it’s located within the NCA enhance the mission or purpose of the NCA.

Q. And not hurt the habitat and the raptors?

A. Exactly. Yes.

Q. The idea behind deferring the two segments, eight and nine, is to get together, talk with the stakeholders and find a solution that everyone can live with, is that correct?

A. That would be the ultimate goal, yes.

Q. What are some of the concerns of the private landowners?

A. I think the farming community is concerned about the impacts to their operation, irrigation. Power lines have an effect on some of their practices and that’s known and it’s been discussed in the EIS [environmental impact statement] as we look at the entire route.  The other issue, I think, is how it effects community development and the opportunities for community development. In the Kuna and Melba area, the power line could negatively affect the ability for those communities to expand and develop subdivisions which would help them economically.

A. What’s the next step? Will construction eventually start in Wyoming first?

Q. Yes, that’s correct. The segments, one through seven, provide for an interconnected network that can stand on its own and so, even beginning next week there are meetings on final designs that are being held in Wyoming at various field offices there. Southwest Idaho has a great history of successful collaborative efforts and I think we’re going to be able successful in helping identify the final locations for segments eight and nine and we’ll have a project that will benefit Idaho in the end.

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