Minor delays surfacing as agencies prepare final EIS for TransWest Express

Federal officials report the possibility of minor delays as they prepare the final environmental impact statement (EIS) for the proposed TransWest Express transmission project.

While the current schedule calls for issuing the final EIS later this year followed by a 30-day comment period, then the issuance of a record of decision (ROD) in the fall, a spokesperson for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) told TransmissionHub Jan. 3, “We are experiencing some project delays that may prevent that from happening.”

At this point, however, any delays are expected to be minor and not expected to affect the projected in-service date.

“The [project development] company does plan on going out and constructing immediately” after receiving its notice to proceed, the spokesperson said.

Given those plans and a three-year construction timetable, an in-service date “fairly close to the end of 2017” is still attainable, the spokesperson added.

BLM and the Western Area Power Administration (WAPA) are the co-lead federal agencies on the project.

Word of the possible delays comes as agency officials are sorting through and evaluating approximately 1,000 comments from concerned citizens, received during the 90-day comment period following the issuance of the draft EIS in June 2013.

“We had a lot of good, substantive comments from the public,” the spokesperson said.

BLM and WAPA held 13 open houses in Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and Nevada – the four states touched by the project – to give members of the public opportunities to review the environmental analysis, the agency preferred alternative route, ask questions, and provide written comments for the agencies to consider. More than 350 people attended those meetings, which were held last August and September. Comments were submitted at the meetings as well as through other channels.

While federal agencies do not publish verbatim comments until the final EIS is issued, the BLM spokesperson indicated the comments received largely centered on areas of concern typically expressed by members of the public who would potentially be affected by the proposed project.

Members of the public expressed a preference for one alternative over another within “a very robust array of alternatives for the project,” the spokesperson said, noting that an “interesting conflict” arose among commenters in one of the project’s states.

“Half of the public comments to us in Colorado [were] to stay off the private land, while the other half of the public said firmly to put the project on private land to protect the resources on the public land,” the spokesperson said.

Other issues included avoidance of special areas that are important to the people living in their vicinity, such as the Mountain Meadows area of Utah, which was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2011 by former Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

Approximately 35 miles west of Cedar City, Utah, the area is the site of the Mountain Meadows massacre, the culmination of a series of attacks on a wagon train carrying emigrants from their home in Arkansas to California. The massacre took place on Sept. 11, 1857, perpetrated by members of the local militia in southern Utah and members of the Paiute Tribe of Native Americans.

Other areas of concern included avoiding the habitat of the greater sage grouse, which is a candidate for protection under the Endangered Species act, as well as taking steps to protect raptors and other sensitive species.

As proposed, the project will consist of a 600-kV DC transmission line approximately 725 miles in length, extending across state, federal and private lands in Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and Nevada.

Two terminal stations will be located on private or public lands at either end of the transmission line, near Sinclair, Wyo., and at the Marketplace Hub in the Eldorado Valley, near Boulder City, Nev. The project would also include two ground electrode facilities within 100 miles of each of the northern and southern terminals. The ground electrode facilities would be used to maintain system operations in the event of the loss of one or more poles or circuits.

A communication system consisting of a network of 12 to 15 fiber optic communication and regeneration sites and microwave facilities at each terminal are also part of the proposed project. Typically, the communications infrastructure would be located within the transmission line ROW, which is planned to be 250 feet wide.

The project would also include the construction of access routes, including improvements to existing roads, new overland access, and new unpaved roads to access the proposed project facilities and work areas during the construction, operation, and maintenance phases.

The project is estimated to cost $3bn, according to the developer’s project website.

The project is one of seven projects selected as a pilot fast-track project by the Obama Administration’s rapid response team for transmission, which was established to coordinate the permitting review among the numerous federal and state agencies involved, provide consistent consultation with tribal governments, and assist in resolving interagency conflicts.