BLM subcommittee to meet, develop solutions for Gateway West

A U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) subcommittee will meet for the first time Dec. 5 in an effort to find solutions to concerns over two segments of the route for the proposed Gateway West transmission project that were not approved in the record of decision (ROD) that was issued Nov. 12.

The ROD identified the BLM-authorized routes on public lands for segments 1 through 7 and segment 10, but deferred decisions for segments 8 and 9, which generally run between a substation near American Falls, Idaho, and a substation southeast of Twin Falls, Idaho, and come close to the 485,000-acre Snake River Bird of Prey National Conservation Area (NCA).

Comprising members from the BLM’s resource advisory council (RAC), the subcommittee will hold four meetings – two in December and two in January 2014 – to gather input that will allow it to craft recommendations to address concerns around the siting of segments 8 and 9, a BLM spokesperson told TransmissionHub Dec. 4.

“A lot of the resource issues that remain to be resolved revolve around the NCA and whether or not we can locate those segments of that power line through that conservation area and stay within the legislative mandate for managing those resources,” the spokesperson said.

Congress established the NCA in 1993 to protect a unique desert environment that supports more than 700 pairs of raptors, which nest each spring along 81 miles of the Snake River Canyon, giving the area the distinction of having the highest density of nesting raptors in North America. The raptors include prairie falcons, golden eagles, osprey, peregrine falcons, red-tailed and ferruginous hawks, and western screech owls, among others.

Enabling legislation includes language that discusses enhancing the resources of the NCA, so subcommittee members will be delving into what that language means and how such enhancements might be accomplished.

“[Enhancement] is a unique term, so we’re trying to work through what it means to enhance the resources that are in that area,” the spokesperson said. “The companies have proposed a number of measures they hope would accomplish enhancing the resources in that NCA.”

Possible enhancement measures were contained in an “enhancement package” that was proposed by the companies, but which was not analyzed as part of the final environmental impact statement (EIS). The subcommittee may consider that package, according to the spokesperson.

The subcommittee will also have to determine whether additional work will need to be performed under the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA). That will depend on the routes selected and how the subcommittee chooses to resolve any of the issues that are associated with proposed routes, among other factors, the spokesperson said, noting that it remains to be seen how much, if any, additional NEPA work would need to be done. It could be anything from an environmental assessment to a supplemental EIS, depending on how they decide to proceed, the spokesperson said.

Karen Steenhof, a research wildlife biologist with expertise in raptors and birds of prey, and Dr. Neil Rimbey, a researcher from the University of Idaho with expertise in coordinated resource management, will co-chair the subcommittee. Both are current members of the Boise District RAC. Other subcommittee members will be chosen from among current and former members of the RAC, as well as others who have subject matter expertise, the spokesperson said. 

While the final composition of the subcommittee is still undecided, it is expected to have six to eight members.

Because the RAC is federally chartered, the subcommittee’s meetings will be public, the workings will all be conducted in open session, and each of the meetings scheduled to date will include the opportunity for public comment. Stakeholders will be able to give input to the subcommittee during the public meeting and through other means; however, stakeholder membership on the committee is limited.

“Federal regulations don’t allow us to appoint any stakeholder who would be directly affected by siting the route in one place or another,” the spokesperson said. “There are some people who would have expertise and certainly interest, but would be precluded from serving because of the appearance of conflict of interest.” 

Subject matter experts and other representatives of the project’s co-developers, Idaho Power and Rocky Mountain Power, will attend the subcommittee meetings, but will not be members of the subcommittee, the spokesperson said.

The group will submit its recommendations to the full RAC by the end of February 2014.

When completed, Gateway West will stretch from the Windstar Substation near Glenrock, Wyo., to the Hemingway Substation near Melba, Idaho, and will provide up to 1,500 MW of transmission capacity in southern Wyoming and southern Idaho.

Idaho Power is a subsidiary of IDACORP (NYSE:IDA). Rocky Mountain Power is a division of PacifiCorp, which is owned by MidAmerican Energy Holdings.