BLM considering extension of public comment period on Gateway West

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is considering extending the public comment period for the proposed Gateway West transmission project to allow comments from the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation, which came out June 25 against the project, charging that its 1,000-mile route crosses too much farmland.

“The biggest problem we have with it … is that 720 miles of the project are on private land, across farms,” a Farm Bureau spokesperson told TransmissionHub June 27.  “We think it needs to be at least an even split between public and private lands.”

The Farm Bureau has asked for an extension of the public comment period for the final environmental impact statement (EIS), which was issued April 26. Although that comment period ends June 29, BLM could decide to allow the Farm Bureau more time to compile and submit its comments.

“We did receive their request and are taking it under advisement,” a BLM spokesperson told TransmissionHub June 27, noting that the extension would not be a blanket extension. “When somebody requests an extension of the comment period, it’s only for them. It doesn’t reopen it to the world; it only applies to them.”

For its part, the Farm Bureau would like to see the project built using as much public land as possible.

“I’m sure a majority of it could be” built on public lands, the spokesperson said. “We’d sooner see it all out in the sagebrush if we could.”

The Farm Bureau believes selection of the preferred route was, in part, for the convenience of the project’s developers.

“You get out in those foothills, it’s a lot more difficult to build a transmission line out there than it is through a nice, flat farm,” the spokesperson said, acknowledging that the organization has not been able to determine if the project could be built exclusively utilizing public lands.

In addition, the Farm Bureau is concerned about the effects of the project on the usability of farmland in the state. Although farmers would be permitted to farm beneath the line, they are concerned about the potential for interrupting GPS and radio signals, which farmers use in their operations.

“All that burden should not fall on those private landowners,” the Farm Bureau spokesperson said.

When the final EIS was issued, BLM officials acknowledged that some local officials and the state of Idaho had a different view on the agency’s preferred route, and expressed a willingness to work with those entities in an effort to find some common ground.

As proposed by Rocky Mountain Power and Idaho Power, the Gateway West project would connect Glenrock, Wyo., with the Hemingway substation about 30 miles south of Boise, Idaho. It would include 10 segments of new transmission, totaling approximately 990 miles of new 230-kV and 500-kV line, as well as three new substations. The project would be capable of moving up to 1,500 MW of energy and is intended to relieve operating limitations on existing transmission lines, increase capacity and improve reliability in the region, according to the final EIS.

The final EIS also includes a thorough analysis of the preferred routes proposed by BLM.

The preferred route through Wyoming closely follows the portion of the West-wide Energy Corridor in that state, while the preferred route through southern Idaho includes a number of alternatives for the portion of the project from just south of Pocatello to the Hemingway substation outside of Boise, indicative of unresolved issues that must still be worked out.

After reviewing the comments received, BLM will issue a record of decision (ROD) later this year. Following the obtaining of a favorable ROD, developers must then obtain permits at the state and local level in Idaho and Wyoming, including local conditional use permits, a permit with the Wyoming Industrial Siting Council and state certificates of public convenience and necessity.

Rocky Mountain Power and Idaho Power anticipate line segments will be completed in phases between 2016 and 2021, according to their joint project website.

Rocky Mountain Power is a subsidiary of PacifiCorp, and Idaho Power is a subsidiary of IDACORP (NYSE:IDA).