The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) has issued recommendations for the proposed AEP Texas North Company (TNC) Heartland to Electric Transmission Texas (ETT) Yellowjacket 138-kV transmission line project in McCulloch and Menard counties in Texas, including that “Alternative Route 5” appears to best minimize adverse impacts to natural resources while also maintaining a shorter route length and paralleling existing corridors for more than half of the route length.
The TPWD said that it “recommends the PUC select a route that would minimize adverse impacts to natural resources, such as Alternative Route 5.”
As noted by the TPWD, AEP TNC and ETT proposed to build a new single-circuit 138-kV transmission line that would initially be operated at 69 kV. The project would begin at the proposed AEP TNC Heartland substation located southeast of the City of Brady on Farm-to-Market Road 2309 in McCulloch County.
The new line would extend southwest until it reaches the existing ETT Yellowjacket substation located in the northwest section of the City of Menard on Frisco Avenue/United States Highway 83 in Menard County, the TPWD added.
Depending on which route is selected in the process, the total length of the proposed project would be about 40 miles long. The typical structure for the project would be either a steel or concrete single-pole design and would vary between 90 to 110 feet in height, depending on clearance requirements, the TPWD added. Typical right of way (ROW) is 100 feet wide, and temporary easements might be required in some areas for additional working space during construction.
In addition to the line, the certificate of convenience and necessity (CCN) application also includes the extension of the existing AEP TNC Mason to North Brady 69-kV transmission line into the new Heartland substation. That extension is referred to as a “cut-in” of the existing line, the TPWD added, noting that the cut-in would use one or more of the alternative routing link or links that have been evaluated as part of the 138-kV transmission line project.
AEP TNC/ETT contracted with POWER Engineers to prepare the environmental assessment (EA) and alternative route analysis, the TPWD said, adding that POWER and the companies identified a total of 25 primary alternative routes for the proposed Heartland to Yellowjacket 138-kV transmission line project and conducted an evaluation of those 25 primary routes.
POWER recommended “Route 16,” the TPWD said, adding that the companies believe that the route that best addresses certain requirements is Route 16 for the AEP TNC Heartland to ETT Yellowjacket 138-kV transmission line, and “Link Z3” for the cut-in of the existing Mason to North Brady 69-kV transmission line into the Heartland substation.
POWER’s decision to recommend Alternative Route 16 as the route that best balances the PUC routing criteria related to land use, ecology and cultural resource, was based primarily on, among other things, that the route:
- Is the fifth shortest route, at 37.4 miles
- Is tied with two other routes as having the second fewest habitable structures within 300 feet of the proposed ROW centerline, with eight
- Is tied with one other route as having the sixth longest length of ROW paralleling existing transmission ROW, at 4.8 miles
- Has the fourth longest length of ROW paralleling other existing ROW, at 22.6 miles
- Is tied with two other routes as having the fourth shortest length across pasture/rangeland, at 35.5 miles
- Is tied with three other routes as having the shortest length of ROW within the foreground visual zone of parks and recreational areas, at 1.4 miles
- Has the fourth fewest number of stream crossings, with 43
- Has the sixth shortest length of ROW across areas of high archaeological site potential, at 16.3 miles
- Crosses no known/occupied habitat of federally endangered or threatened species
The TPWD said that since “Segment Z3” and “Segment N3” of the companies’ selected route crosses Brady Creek in two locations, it does not recommend the selection of Alternative Route 16 as the preferred alternative route. The TPWD also said that it has selected “Alternative Route 5” as the route having the least potential to impact fish and wildlife resources.
For instance, the TPWD said:
- Alternative Route 5 is the shortest route at 34.8 miles
- 80.4% of Route 5 uses existing transmission line ROW, is parallel or adjacent to existing transmission line ROW, or is parallel and adjacent to other existing ROW – excluding apparent property boundaries
- Route 5 does not cross any parks and there are no additional parks or recreational areas within 1,000 feet of the ROW centerline
- Route 5 crosses 1.2 miles of cropland
- Route 5 has the shortest length through pasture/rangeland at 32.9 miles
- Route 5 does not cross any known habitat of federally listed endangered or threatened species as defined in the EA
- Route 5 crosses the fewest number of streams at 38 stream crossings
- Route 5 does not cross any rivers
- Route 5 has the second shortest length of ROW parallel – within 100 feet – to streams or rivers at 0.49 mile
Under construction recommendations, the TPWD said that it recommends the judicious use and placement of sediment control fence to exclude wildlife from the construction area.
The TPWD, to prevent electrocution of perching birds, recommended using avian-safe designs that provide appropriate separation between two energized phases or between an energized phase and grounded equipment. The TPWD also recommended excluding vegetation clearing activities during the general bird nesting season, March through August, to avoid adverse impacts to that group.
In addition, the TPWD said that it recommends surveying the PUC-selected route for suitable golden-cheeked warbler habitat prior to vegetation clearing or disturbance. Furthermore, the TPWD, in order to minimize impacts to certain aquatic species, recommended ensuring that precipitation runoff, which could potentially carry pollutants, is intercepted and treated before reaching waterways and sensitive features on and off the project site by installing storm water best management practices.
Among other things, the TPWD said that it recommends avoiding disturbance of the Texas horned lizard, their burrows, and colonies of their primary food source, the harvester ant, during clearing and construction.