WAPA: Draft EIS for Estes-to-Flatiron rebuild delayed until fall

The Western Area Power Administration (WAPA) on June 24 announced a delay in issuing the draft environmental impact statement (EIS) for its proposed Estes-to-Flatiron transmission line rebuild project in Colorado, postponing the release from the previously announced summer time frame to next fall and setting the stage for a potential project delay.

“Because there are so many people and so much data involved, it will take longer than we anticipated” to issue the draft EIS, a WAPA spokesperson told TransmissionHub June 25. “With our coordination with the other agencies involved, we’re hoping to have it out in the fall.”

WAPA officials are still in the analysis process, reviewing more than 800 unique comments and more than 200 pages of scoping documents obtained during the environmental assessment (EA) and EIS processes, the spokesperson added.

The input included almost 600 unique comments that raised more than 80 issues during the EA process as well as 52 unique comment letters and 11 form letters that raised nearly 225 unique comments during the EIS process.

That volume of information is due in part to the agency twice extending the comment period during the EIS process, resulting in a scoping period that ran more than six months instead of the originally scheduled 90 days. Additional delays could prove problematic.

According to TransmissionHub data, the project is scheduled to be completed and energized in 2014 at a cost of approximately $19m, which is also subject to adjustment.

“At this point, we don’t know if [the draft EIS delay] will impact the construction schedule,” the spokesperson said, adding, “Depending on the route alternative selected, the cost could be changed as well.”

The agency is proposing the renovation of approximately 32 miles of transmission line in three segments that connect the city of Estes Park to its Flatiron substation near the Flatiron Reservoir. The Estes-Lyons line segment is approximately 16 miles long and was built in 1938. The Estes-Pole Hill and Flatiron-Pole Hill line segments combined are approximately 16 miles long and were built in 1952 as part of the Colorado-Big Thompson Project.

“The vast majority of wood pole structures on both transmission lines are the original poles and are 60 to 72 years old … deteriorating, and need to be upgraded to current National Electrical Safety Code (NESC)” standards, WAPA said on its project website.

The project would eliminate about 16 miles of transmission line by replacing the aging lines and structures currently situated on two separate rights-of-way (ROW) with a single 115-kV double-circuit line on a single ROW. The ROW that is abandoned will be restored to its original state, the spokesperson said.

The rebuild will ensure that reliable and cost-effective electricity is provided to Estes Park, Loveland and other Front Range communities, and would improve transmission safety by updating facilities and rebuilding aging transmission lines to meet current standards, WAPA said. In addition, the upgrade would improve emergency and maintenance access to the lines.

The EIS process was triggered when issues raised during the two-month EA scoping period revealed “significant public concern,” which is one of the criteria that can trigger the need for an EIS under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Accordingly, WAPA issued a notice of intent to conduct an EIS on April 17, 2012, opening an EIS scoping period, which ultimately ran more than six months before it closed on Oct. 19, 2012.

“We wanted to make sure that everybody knew we were listening and gathering their input about this project,” the spokesperson said.

Key issues raised during the EIS process were similar to those identified in the EA process but with a greater focus on the purpose of, and need for, the project. Other key concerns raised were siting criteria, including locating the project to avoid residential and recreational areas and scenic corridors. Concerns also included design options with a focus on reducing the visibility of the ROW by using towers shorter than the surrounding vegetation where possible, and using weathering steel structures.

While comments from the EA and EIS scoping processes were published in separate documents for clarity, all input is being reviewed and analyzed together, the WAPA spokesperson said. At this point, a number of route options have been identified but a preferred route has not been selected, the spokesperson said.

Issuance of the draft EIS will initiate a comment period of at least 45 days, and comments will be incorporated in the drafting of the final EIS. Following the publication of the final EIS, a waiting period of at least 30 days must pass before a record of decision can be issued. Comments can also be submitted during that waiting period.