The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD), in July 13 comments filed with the Public Utility Commission (PUC) of Texas, said that it selected Alternative Route 29 as the alternative route that best minimizes impacts to natural resources in connection to LCRA Transmission Services Corporation’s (TSC) proposed Round Rock to Leander 138-kV Transmission Line Project in Williamson County, Texas.
With that being said, the TPWD noted that it believes that the study area contains a significant number of environmental issues and every route evaluated would have a negative impact on the state’s fish and wildlife resources.
As noted by the TPWD, the proposed project consists of building two new substations – Substation 1 and Substation 2 – and the new line connecting the new substations to the electric grid at the existing Pedernales Electric Cooperative Inc. (PEC) Leander and Oncor Electric Delivery Company Round Rock substations.
Substation 1 would be in the general area near the intersection of Parmer Lane/Ronald Reagan Boulevard and FM 1431. Substation 2, the TPWD added, would be in the general area near the intersection of Ronald Reagan Boulevard and Crystal Falls Parkway. Substation 1 would directly connect to Substation 2 and Oncor’s Round Rock substation, while Substation 2 would directly connect to Substation 1 and PEC’s Leander substation.
The line, the TPWD added, would be about 12 to 21 miles long, depending on the route selected. The proposed project would be built on double-circuit capable structures, with one circuit to be installed initially and the second circuit to be installed on the double-circuit structures at a later date. The TPWD also noted that LCRA TSC is seeking certification and PUC approval for both 138-kV circuits in the application.
To connect each end of the new line to the existing electric grid, PEC would expand its 138-kV electrical bus and LCRA TSC would install and own a circuit breaker in the existing PEC Leander substation. Oncor would install and own a circuit breaker in its existing Round Rock substation, the TPWD added.
The TPWD said that its decision to recommend Alternative Route 29 was based primarily on such factors as:
- The length of Route 29 is 15.1 miles, with the shortest route being 11.8 miles, and the longest route being 21.3 miles
- Four miles of Route 29 uses existing transmission line ROW
- 56.9% of Route 29 uses existing transmission line ROW, is parallel or adjacent to existing transmission line ROW, or parallel or adjacent to other existing ROW
- Route 29 crosses five miles of pasture/rangeland, with the shortest length of ROW crossing pasture/rangeland at 2.1 miles
- Route 29 crosses the least amount of upland woodlands/brushlands at six miles
- Route 29 does not cross any known habitat of federally listed endangered or threatened species as defined in the EA
- Route 29 includes 20 stream crossings, with the fewest stream crossings being 16 and the most stream crossings being 28
The TPWD said that it would not typically recommend a route with the environmental issues associated with Route 29, but in this case there was no available option to avoid significant environmental impacts. Negative environmental factors associated with Alternative Route 29 include that 1.7 miles of Route 29 crosses parks/recreational areas, and 16 additional parks/recreational areas are located within 1,000 feet of the ROW centerline.
The TPWD said that it believes that Route 29 could be improved by selecting substation location 1-6 within Substation Siting Area 1 and substation location 2-5 within Substation Siting Area 2. Substation location 1-6 is not located within the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone and it is primarily located within Karst Zone 4, with a small portion being located within Karst Zone 3, the TPWD said. Substation location 2-5 is not located within the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone and it is located within Karst Zone 4, the TPWD said.
The TPWD said that it recommends that the PUC “select a route that would minimize adverse impacts to natural resources, such as Alternative Route 29 and substation locations 2-5 and 1-6.”
The TPWD also recommended that LCRA TSC coordinate with the TPWD Recreation Grants Program and with the park property owners to determine whether any portion of the project would impact LWCF or Local Parks Fund projects.
The TPWD further recommended the judicious use and placement of sediment control fence to exclude wildlife from the construction area.
To prevent electrocution of perching birds, the TPWD recommended using avian-safe designs that provide appropriate separation between two energized phases or between an energized phase and grounded equipment.
If migratory birds species are found nesting on or adjacent to the project area, they must be dealt with in a manner consistent with the MBTA, the TPWD said, adding that it recommends excluding vegetation clearing activities during the general bird nesting season, March through August, to avoid adverse impacts to that group.
The TPWD also said that it recommends that LCRA TSC consult with the USFWS during the planning stages – before a route has been selected – during the route selection process, and after a route has been selected to help avoid and minimize potential impacts to federally listed species through every step of the proposed project.
The TPWD recommended selecting a route that does not cross USFWS-designated critical habitat for the Jollyville Plateau salamander as well as avoiding the selection of a route that crosses suitable habitat for certain federally listed salamander species that have the potential to occur or are known to occur within the study area.
Among other things, the TPWD also recommended avoiding disturbance of the Texas horned lizard, their burrows and colonies of their primary food source, the harvester ant, during clearing and construction.