Texas agency recommends ‘Alternative Route 10’ for HCEC’s proposed 138-kV line

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD), in Dec. 28, 2015, comments and recommendations filed with the Public Utility Commission (PUC) of Texas, said it “recommends PUC select a route that would minimize adverse impacts to natural resources, such as Alternative Route 10” for Houston County Electric Cooperative’s (HCEC) proposed 138-kV transmission line.

As noted by the TPWD, HCEC retained POWER Engineers to prepare the environmental assessment and alternative route analysis (EA) to support HCEC’s application to amend a certificate of convenience and necessity (CCN) for a proposed transmission line.

The proposed project involves building a new 13-mile to 18-mile, single-circuit, 138-kV transmission line to connect the existing Mustang Prairie substation, located on the northwest side of State Highway (SH) 21, southwest of Crockett between Farm-to-Market Road (FM) 2967 and County Road (CR) 3380, to the proposed Weldon substation, to be located along FM 2915, about 3.8 miles west of FM 230, southwest of Lovelady in southern Houston County.

The TPWD also noted that HCEC initially considered two optional locations for the proposed Weldon substation along FM 2915, but after they were shown at a public meeting, HCEC added a third location, which was ultimately selected and obtained by HCEC. The line would be built within a typical 100-foot-wide right of way (ROW) on concrete or steel monopole structures. Typical structure height would range between 85 feet and 115 feet tall, the TPWD added.

The EA evaluated 17 alternative routes using 58 route links that were identified following a preliminary alternative route analysis and public involvement program. HCEC indicates in the CCN application that all 17 routes are feasible from an environmental, land use and engineering perspective. The TPWD also said that the CCN identifies Route 14 (D-F-H-P-Z-AC-AY1-BB-AX2) as the route that HCEC believes best addresses certain requirements as the route, among other things:

  • Has the third-lowest estimated cost at about $15.5m
  • Is the third-shortest route at 13.62 miles
  • Is tied with Route 11 for having the fewest number of habitable structures (four) within 300 feet of its centerline
  • Would use 3.47 miles of existing distribution line easement
  • Uses or parallels existing linear features – distribution lines, other existing compatible ROW, compatible pipeline ROW, or apparent property lines or other natural or cultural features – for 97% of its length
  • Does not cross through any cropland
  • Does not cross, or is within 1,000 feet of any previously recorded archaeological sites

Also, Route 14 does not cross and is not located within 1,000 feet of any parks/recreational areas; crosses no known/occupied habitat of federally endangered or threatened species; and does not cross or is within 1,000 feet of any sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The TPWD added, however, that based on a review of the natural resource impacts presented in the EA, project maps and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) data, the TPWD determined that Alternative Route 14 would not be the best alternative route to minimize impacts to natural resources. Several environmental criteria, pertaining to the avoidance and minimization of impacts to natural resources, did not influence HCEC’s selection of Route 14, such as impacts bottomland and/or riparian woodlands, upland woodlands, open water (such as lakes and ponds), and streams.

The TPWD added that after careful evaluation of the 17 routes filed with the CCN, the TPWD selected Alternative Route 10 (D-F-H-P-Z-AD1-BC-AU2-AZ-AX3) as the route having the least potential to impact fish and wildlife resources.

The decision to recommend Alternative Route 10 is based primarily on these factors, the TPWD said:

  • Second-shortest route (13.47 miles)
  • Uses or follows parallel to existing electric transmission or distribution line, roads, highways, railroads, compatible pipelines, not including apparent property lines, for about 96% of the route length
  • Shortest distance across bottomland/riparian woodlands, upland woodlands, National Wetlands Inventory wetlands, and open water combined for the route (5.14 miles)
  • Crosses the third least number of streams (17)
  • Follows parallel to streams (within 100 feet) for 0.19 miles

The TPWD said it recommends excluding vegetation clearing activities during the general bird nesting season, March through August, to avoid adverse impacts to that group. If clearing vegetation during the migratory bird nesting season is unavoidable, the TPWD said it recommends HCEC survey the area proposed for disturbance to ensure that no nests with eggs or young will be disturbed by operations.

To minimize potential collision impacts to resident and migratory birds, the TPWD recommended that HCEC proactively install bird flight diverters when the lines are erected in areas of potential high bird use such as near lakes, rivers, streams, ponds, wetlands, crops and flooded pastures.

Regarding endangered and threatened wildlife, the EA identifies certain federally listed species as potentially occurring within the study area if suitable habitat is present, such as the Red-cockaded woodpecker and piping plover. The TPWD added that it supports HCEC’s commitment to coordinate with the USFWS if suitable habitat for the Red-cockaded woodpecker is found during field surveys of the approved route.

The EA also identifies other state-listed species as potentially occurring within the study area if suitable habitat is present, such as the alligator snapping turtle and the Texas horned lizard. The TPWD added that once an alternative route is selected, it recommends HCEC survey the route to determine the potential of the site to support state-listed species or their habitat, including the Texas horned lizard. The TPWD also recommended that HCEC avoid disturbance to state-listed species during clearing, construction, operation and maintenance of the proposed line and ROW.

The proposed project would cross streams, primarily by spanning, but temporary access road crossings and/or permanent structures may need to be placed into streams if alternative access road routes or spanning is unavoidable. The TPWD added that it recommends that impact avoidance measures for aquatic organisms, including all native freshwater mussel species, regardless of state-listing status, be considered during project planning and construction activities.

Among other things, the TPWD also said that the presence of a biological monitor is recommended during construction to identify rare plants, vegetation communities, and wildlife, and to assist contractors with avoiding impacts.