The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) recently announced the record of decision (ROD) for segments 8 and 9 of the Gateway West Transmission Line Project, which is jointly proposed by PacifiCorp d/b/a Rocky Mountain Power and Idaho Power.
According to the project’s website, the project would include about 150 miles of 230-kV lines in Wyoming and about 850 miles of 500-kV lines in Wyoming and Idaho. The companies anticipate line segments will be completed in phases between 2019 and 2024, the website noted.
As noted in the ROD, the project includes these components:
- Gateway West 500-kV Transmission Line: The primary component consists of two new 500-kV transmission lines on steel lattice towers. The BLM right of way (ROW) grant area for the line will be 250 feet wide for each 500-kV line, extending to 500 feet in width where the Segment 8 and 9 lines are adjacent. Access roads located in the transmission line ROW grant area are included in the authorized use
- Distribution lines – Overhead lines will be built to distribute power to the substations and optical signal regeneration stations
- Access roads/spur roads: The proponents will use existing access roads wherever possible to build the transmission lines. There are segments of existing access roads located outside the transmission line ROW, and there are several locations where new spur roads to tower locations will be built. Roads outside the transmission line ROW on public land will be located within separate, temporary 50-foot-wide ROWs
- Substations: A total of three substations will be built on private lands along Segments 8 and 9. Two of the substations are currently in service – the Midpoint and Hemingway substations; the third, the Cedar Hill substation, is associated with the segments approved in a 2013 ROD and is yet to be built
As noted on the project’s website, the ROD, which the BLM announced on Jan. 19, identifies BLM-authorized routes on public land for segments 8 and 9. The BLM released the ROD for segments 1 through 7 and 10 in eastern Idaho and Wyoming in 2013, the website added.
According to the BLM’s website, the decision grants rights of way (ROWs) to the companies to build and operate 321 miles of 500-kV transmission lines on BLM-managed public lands in Gooding, Elmore, Owyhee, Cassia and Twin Falls counties in Idaho.
According to the ROD, the decision approves ROWs for the route alignments for Segments 8 and 9, shown in the final supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS) as Alternative 5 with Toana Road variation 1. That alternative is referred to as the BLM’s agency preferred alternative in the final SEIS, and as the selected alternative in the ROD. The selected alternative encompasses about 321.5 miles of linear ROW in Cassia, Elmore, Gooding, Jerome, Lincoln, Owyhee and Twin Falls counties in Idaho, the ROD added.
Further discussing “Alternative 5 – Route 8G and Route 9K (Selected Alternative, with one variation),” the ROD noted that Alternative 5 has a combined length of 321.5 miles, which is the highest total length among the seven alternatives. However, most of the alignment would consist of two lines located no less than 250 feet apart, instead of two separate lines affecting different areas. It would require removal of an existing transmission line along 1.9 miles of the route. The two routes would follow the same alignment within the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area (SRBOP) for about 9.9 miles each regardless of land ownership, for a combined total of about 19.7 miles of new transmission line in the SRBOP. The ROD also said that that alternative minimizes crossing of the SRBOP, and that inclusion of the Toana Road Variation 1 avoids impacts to the historic Toana Freight Road, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP), and minimizes impacts to Greater Sage-grouse (GRSG) habitat in the area.
The ROD specifically authorizes the use of public lands for Segments 8 and 9 of Gateway West and appurtenant facilities for a total of 270.7 miles, containing a total of about 8,203 acres, more or less, plus access roads and spur roads for about 272.28 miles, containing about 660.07 acres, more or less.
The ROD also noted that granting the ROW to PacifiCorp contributes to the public interest in providing reliable electric power to meet regional, state and federal energy goals, while protecting important resources found on affected lands. Stipulations in the grant ensure that authorizing the project will protect environmental resources and comply with environmental standards, regulations and policies, including those related to mitigation of environmental effects.
The ROD also said that the decision is conditioned on mitigation plans that can be monitored during implementation to ensure effectiveness and durability, as identified in the final SEIS, and includes the final Project Plan of Development (POD), a Migratory Bird Habitat Conservation Plan, a Comprehensive Sage-Grouse Habitat Mitigation Framework Plan, Historic Property Treatment Plans prepared under the guidelines in the PA, the Conservation Mitigation Framework and Plan for the SRBOP, and the issuance of all necessary local, state, and federal approvals, authorizations and permits.
The ROW for the operational area is granted for a term of 30 years, and with that grant, authorization for a temporary ROW for construction areas containing an additional 534.11 acres, more or less, is granted for five years, which is set to expire, according to the ROD.
Use of any public lands as authorized under the ROW grant is contingent on the grant holders supplying final engineering design construction plans as part of a final POD, which the BLM will review and approve before issuing a notice to proceed (NTP), the ROD said. The BLM expects the project to receive certificates of public convenience and necessity from the appropriate state public service/utility commission; if the project fails to obtain those approvals, the BLM will determine whether the ROW grant is still valid, the ROD said.
Among other things, the BLM discussed project-specific mitigation measures, noting that the project is one of a limited number of Presidential priority projects that were well underway before the development of the GRSG-approved resource management plans (ARMPAs) and associated EISs. The BLM determined that mitigating impacts to GRSG and their habitat, including a net conservation plan, will be necessary, and in coordination with the proponents and cooperating agencies, identified conservation measures for GRSG similar to those in the GRSG ROD and ARMPA for Idaho, the ROD said.
After a comprehensive habitat mitigation plan is developed, the BLM and other federal, state and local agencies with sage-grouse expertise will review it for adequacy, the ROD added.
The POD commits to appropriate avoidance and minimization measures that would reduce impacts to migratory birds during construction and operation, the ROD said. The BLM will review all plans, consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and will not issue NTPs for the respective portions of the project area until the applicable plan is accepted, according to the ROD.