Public Utilities Commission of Ohio staff, in a May 23 report filed with the Ohio Power Siting Board (OPSB), recommended that the OPSB find that the basis of need for AEP Ohio Transmission Company’s (AEP Ohio Transco) proposed Rouse-Bell Ridge 138-kV Transmission Line Project has been demonstrated and therefore complies with certain requirements, provided that any certificate issued by the OPSB for the proposed project include conditions.
Such conditions include that the project be installed on the company’s preferred route; that the company conduct a preconstruction conference prior to the start of any construction activities; and that the company conduct no in-water work in perennial streams from April 15 through June 30 to reduce impacts to indigenous aquatic species and their habitat.
As noted by staff, AEP Ohio Transco in January filed an application for a certificate of environmental compatibility and public need for the project in Monroe and Washington counties in Ohio. The $25m project would provide additional transmission service to the counties, ultimately improving electric service reliability in the southeastern Ohio area, staff said. AEP Ohio Transco proposes to start construction in late 2018, and complete construction of the line by fall 2020.
The proposed project is part of the company’s broader program to modernize the southeast Ohio transmission and distribution network, staff added. The program is intended to enhance the reliability of the region’s aging 23-kV distribution system by adding many new transmission elements, and ultimately providing a looped 138-kV transmission system in southeast Ohio.
The proposed project involves building a new overhead line – using H-frame, galvanized steel poles – that connects the proposed Rouse and Bell Ridge substations, with the company proposing a 100-foot right of way (ROW) for the new line, staff added.
The preferred route, which is about 12.7 miles long and has total intangible and capital costs of about $14.5m, begins at the proposed Rouse substation in the southern part of Monroe County. The preferred route winds southwest for about 0.3 mile, crosses over State Route 26, and continues southwest for another 1.9 miles, before turning south for 0.4 mile, staff added.
The route runs southwest for 0.9 mile, crossing into Washington County, and crossing over State Route 260. Staff also said that the route continues south for 2.6 miles, then southwest and west for 1.5 miles to Wingett Run. During that 1.5-mile stretch, the route crosses over State Route 26 three times. Staff added that the route continues south, southwest, south, southwest from Wingett Run for the next 5.1 miles, crossing over State Route 26 seven times, before terminating at the proposed Bell Ridge substation in east-central Washington County.
Discussing land use, staff said that the preferred route crosses 59% woodlots, 18% residential, and 5% agricultural land. Additionally, the preferred route crosses 10% utility ROW – for the existing 23 kV transmission line.
There are 90 residences located within 1,000 feet of the preferred route centerline, none of which is located within the potential disturbance area, staff added, noting that the nearest residence is located 10 feet away from the ROW for the proposed preferred route.
It is unlikely that any residences would need to be removed for construction or operation of the line along either the preferred or alternate route, as the ROW for both routes were sited to avoid existing residences, staff said. The primary impact on existing residences would be that they would experience temporary ambient noise increases during facility construction and tree clearing for the new ROW, staff said.
The preferred route is located within 1,000 feet of one commercial building and no industrial buildings, staff said, adding that no negative impacts to commercial or industrial land uses are anticipated as a result of the project.
The preferred and alternate routes cross a portion of the Wayne National Forest – 4% of the preferred route and 12% of the alternate route. Staff also said that there is one school and one church located within 1,000 feet of the preferred route, but not within the area of disturbance. No negative impacts to institutional land uses are expected from the construction, operation, or maintenance of either the preferred route or the alternate route for the project, staff said.
Of cultural, archaeological, and architectural resources, staff said that AEP Ohio Transco’s cultural resources consultant performed a literature review for both routes and Phase I cultural resource management investigation (archaeology and history/architecture) for the preferred route. No known cultural resources were identified within the potential disturbance area of either route, staff said.
Four cemeteries and two Ohio Historic Inventory (OHI) structures are located within 1,000 feet of the preferred route, staff said, adding that one National Register of Historic Places (NRHP)-listed resource and one NRHP Historic District are located within 1,000 feet of the preferred route.
Phase I field work was performed for the potential disturbance area of the preferred route, staff said, noting that six new archaeological sites were identified. Five of the six sites were recommended as not eligible for the NRHP, and continued fieldwork was ongoing for the sixth site, staff said.
As of the writing of the report, Staff is not aware that the Ohio Historic Preservation Office (OHPO) has responded to AEP Ohio Transco/the consultant. Staff recommended that the company complete field testing and provide to staff an OHPO letter of concurrence that the project would not affect historic properties prior to the start of construction.
AEP Ohio Transco has not completed archaeological investigations for the portions of either route within the Wayne National Forest, as it is coordinating that effort with the U.S. Department of Agricultural Forest Service, staff added. The company has submitted a permit for archaeological investigations per the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979, staff said, adding that it recommends any remaining archaeological fieldwork within the Wayne National Forest for either route that is approved by the OPSB be completed prior to the start of construction. The results of any additional archaeological fieldwork should be submitted to OHPO and staff upon completion, staff said.
Discussing ecological impacts, staff said, for instance, that the project area is within the range of state and federal endangered Indiana bat and the federal threatened northern long-eared bat. As tree roosting species in the summer months, the habitat of those species may be impacted by the project. Staff added that in order to avoid impacts to the Indiana bat and northern long-eared bat, it recommends the company adhere to seasonal tree cutting dates of Oct. 1 through March 31 for all trees over three inches in diameter.
A local public hearing is scheduled for June 7 in New Matamoras, Ohio, staff said, adding that an adjudicatory hearing will begin on June 28 at the commission’s offices in Columbus, Ohio.