The Bureau of Land Management was slated to release its final recommended route in an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on January 25th for the 1,150-mile Gateway West power line from Glenrock, Wyoming to Murphy in Owyhee County and across southern Idaho.
Two routes are planned for the 90-foot-tall, 500-kilovolt lines, one to the south and another through the Treasure Valley to the north before they merge again at the Hemingway power station near Melba.
At the Capital for a Day in Kuna, John Chatburn of the Office of Energy Resources said the national BLM director is coming to Idaho “and gather Idaho concerns before its release.”
Officials on the national, state and local levels hammered out a compromise route across BLM land through the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey area but the BLM nixed that plan in October in favor of a different route on private acreage through Melba and Kuna. That triggered a roar of protest.
“The route should be in the desert, where it belongs,” said Brandon Schmeckpeper. Chatburn said the decision “to run that line from Melba up through Kuna was federal, not state.”
“The states and governors were supposed to determine the final route, but that was taken out by a conference committee,” Otter said.
BLM Project Manager Walt George said, “We recognize the tiered authorities involved in the process of siting the transmission lines in our electrical grid. Our authority is limited to the public lands. We hope to satisfy most people, but it’s difficult to find a place that will do that.”
He also said BLM’s policy calls for minimizing habitat loss of sage grouse and raptors and for more dialogue locally.
PUC Commissioner Paul Kjellander said, “We want the least-cost alternative and will exhaust every opportunity to get that, putting pressure on the utilities,” mainly Idaho Power.
Schmeckpeper asked, “Will Idaho issue a ‘necessary and convenient’ permit to allow the line to go down Barker Lane?”
Kjellander said, “Once we issue that, things start to happen. It’s always based on the time and place and we don’t know where that will be.” Electricity prices have decreased, helping to place the project on a back burner, and “natural gas prices can swing very volatilely and utilities will have to seek cost recovery.”
Dale Willis of Phoenix, Arizona, who owns 1,045 acres north of the Snake River bridge south of Melba, said, “The BLM line is to go right through our property. Who makes the final decision as we wait for the EIS to come out? There’s a cloud on that property and I can’t sell it.”
Otter said that “ultimately, it’s in the hands of the new Interior Secretary.”
Owyhee County Commissioner Jerry Hoagland said, “Where the preferred line will go changes our life-style and the view of the mountains.”
Longtime area farmer Boyd Anderson asked Otter, “Who owns the land?”
“Over 300 million Americans,” Otter said.
Construction on the lines, wherever they end up being routed, isn’t expected to begin for another two years.