WAPA sorting through public comments on Estes Park to Flatiron upgrade

With the close of the public scoping period for the Estes Park to Flatiron Reservoir transmission rebuild project in Colorado three weeks away, Western Area Power Administration (WAPA) officials are reviewing a large volume of public comments obtained during two open houses on Aug. 6 and 7.

The most discussed question remains, “Where’s the best place to put this line?” a WAPA spokesperson told TransmissionHub on Aug. 10.

WAPA plans to replace approximately 32 miles of aging 115-kV line that follows two separate rights-of-way (ROW) between Estes Park, Colo., and Flatiron Reservoir to the east.  The agency proposes consolidating the two existing lines onto a double-circuit line on one of the existing ROW paths, reducing the ROW miles by half.

The ROW that is abandoned will be restored to its original state, the spokesperson said.

In addition to which ROW path should be used for the new lines, some residents are concerned about the new towers, which the spokesperson said would be slightly taller than the existing wooden poles. Other residents want the agency to consider proposals not currently on the table.

There is little question the update is needed as, according to WAPA, the existing power lines were placed in service in 1938 and 1953.

“Upgrading these lines is necessary to comply with safety standards; ensure reliable and cost effective electricity in Estes Park, Loveland and along the Front Range [of the Rocky Mountains]; and provide accessibility for maintenance and emergencies,” WAPA said on its project website. “The lines in question are essential for the delivery of power to the town of Estes Park from a variety of generation sources along the Front Range.”

In August 2011, the agency signed a determination that an environmental assessment (EA) would be the appropriate level of review for the project. However, during the scoping period that followed, the agency heard what the spokesperson described as “significant public concern, which is one of the criteria that can kick you into doing an environmental impact statement [(EIS)] instead of an EA.”

As a result, WAPA determined that an EIS was the more appropriate level of review under the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and initiated a 90-day EIS scoping period on April 17. The EIS process has a more extensive public involvement process than under the EA process.

The initial scoping period was extended to Aug. 31 to give the public and other agencies more time to express new issues or route alternatives. Comments received before the close of the scoping period will be considered in defining the scope of the EIS. To ensure consideration in the draft EIS, all comments must be received before the end of the scoping period, WAPA said on its web site.

It is unlikely that the scoping period will be extended again, the spokesperson said.

After the scoping period ends, the agency will prepare and issue a draft environmental impact statement (DEIS), and will then provide additional opportunities for public participation.

A comment period of at least 45 days will begin when the DEIS is issued and a third comment period of at least 30 days will begin when the agency issues the final environmental impact statement.

The line upgrade is estimated to cost $19m and is scheduled to be energized in 2014, according to TransmissionHub data.