BLM to draft environmental assessment for Utah transmission project

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is poised to begin drafting the environmental assessment (EA) for the proposed Cameron to Milford 138-kV transmission line project in central Utah now that the scoping period ended Sept. 24.

PacifiCorp, d/b/a Rocky Mountain Power, is proposing to construct, operate, and maintain the line as part of an upgrade to the system that serves the town of Milford, Utah, a rural community of about 1,400, located approximately 210 miles south of Salt Lake City. Under federal law, the BLM is responsible for responding to applications for rights-of-way (ROW) on BLM-administered lands.

The proposed line will run from the existing Cameron substation near Beaver, Utah, to the existing Milford substation near Milford. The project also includes expansion of the Cameron substation to accommodate new equipment needed to interconnect the proposed project with the existing system.

The new construction will be between 10 miles and 11 miles long depending on the route chosen, and will connect with an existing line segment approximately seven miles long that is already in service, a Rocky Mountain Power spokesperson told TransmissionHub Sept. 24. Most of the new line will cross public lands administered by the BLM.

Milford is currently served by a single 46-KV line that has one of the highest outage rates in Rocky Mountain Power’s Utah service territory, BLM realty specialist Karen McAdams-Kunze told TransmissionHub.

During times of high demand, that line reaches capacity, leaving the community with virtually no ability to accommodate commercial or agricultural load growth. Even new residential service is added on a case-by-case basis, she said.

The new line, which will enhance capacity and reliability in the area, is part of the project to upgrade the area’s transmission service from 46-kV to 138-kV, according to the utility’s spokesperson, who acknowledged that the area’s existing system “is not performing well.”

A ROW for the project was authorized in the early 1980s, McAdams-Kunze said, but Rocky Mountain Power did not construct the line at that time, so the BLM “basically started the process over because it’s been so long since we did an environmental assessment that we felt it important to go through the whole process and have all the public input.”

With the end of the scoping period, a draft EA is the next step required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

Public comments have been few and largely confined to technical matters. “We will acknowledge the comments in the EA and they will guide us in terms of helping identify issues that will be the focus of our analysis,” McAdams-Kunze said.

“The EA will disclose the direct, indirect, and the cumulative environmental impacts of implementing the proposed project,” she added.

An EA must reach a “finding of no significant impacts,” or FONSI, meaning that any environmental impacts can be mitigated to a point where there is no impact, she said. If the BLM is unable to mitigate impacts, the agency would have to perform a full environmental impact statement (EIS).

“We have not yet made a decision whether we’re going to authorize this proposal, nor have we made a decision of which route would be used if we did authorize it,” she said, adding, “We feel confident at this point that … our authorized officer will be able to come to the conclusion of a finding of no significant impacts.”

BLM is offering members of the public the opportunity to see the project area first-hand. It will conduct a tour along the proposed action route on Oct. 3. Representatives from both BLM and Rocky Mountain Power will be available to answer questions regarding the proposal and the routes being analyzed in the EA.

The cost of the project has yet to be determined and will depend in part on the route selected, the Rocky Mountain Power spokesperson said.

According to the BLM, the line is targeted to be in service in 2014, but that is “dependent upon a variety of permitting and budgeting issues,” the utility’s spokesperson said.