The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD), in a July 23 filing submitted to the Public Utility Commission of Texas regarding Lower Colorado River Authority Transmission Services Corporation’s (LCRA TSC) proposed Cooks Point 138-kV Transmission Line, recommended “Alternative Route 21” for the project as the alternative route that best minimizes impacts to natural resources.
As noted by the TPWD, LCRA TSC proposes to design and build the new single-circuit, 138-kV transmission line in Burleson County, Texas. The line would connect a new load-serving electric substation located in the vicinity of the Cooks Point community in northern Burleson County – near the intersection of State Highway (SH) 21 and Farm-to-Market (FM) Road 1362 – to either the existing Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative (BBEC) Lyle Wolz substation or BBEC Lyons substation, depending on the route approved for the project.
LCRA TSC would install new transmission equipment at the new Cooks Point substation, as well as at either the Lyle Wolz substation or Lyons substation, the TPWD added.
The new line would have a length of about 17 miles to 23 miles, depending on the final route approved by the commission. The TPWD also said that the new line would be supported by concrete and/or steel structures within a right of way (ROW) that would be about 80 feet wide, depending on location. Typical structure heights may range between 75 feet to 110 feet aboveground. The TPWD added that approximate span lengths between structures would typically range between 600 feet to 1,000 feet.
LCRA TSC’s application identified “Route 7” as the alternative route that LCRA TSC believes best addresses certain requirements. The TPWD added that according to the application, that decision was based on, for instance, the route having the lowest overall cost of each of the alternative routes and having the third shortest length.
The TPWD said that of the 26 routes evaluated in the environmental assessment (EA), Route 7 does not adequately minimize adverse impacts to natural resources. That route is parallel or adjacent to existing transmission line for only 1.7 miles of its length, and it ranks fifth lowest – 85% – for percent of route parallel to existing corridors, the TPWD said. Route 7 is situated within 1,000 feet of a park or recreation area, the TPWD said, adding that Route 7 also has the maximum number of known rare/unique plant locations within the right of way (ROW).
TPWD said that its decision to recommend Alternative Route 21 was based on such factors as that the route:
- Exhibits overall avoidance of route proximity to modeled optimal habitat for threatened and endangered species – 0.4-mile crossing modeled optimal habitat
- Has the greatest length of route – 14.1 miles – parallel or adjacent to existing electric transmission lines
- Has 93% of the route parallel or adjacent to existing corridors
- Has minimal crossing of forested or scrub/shrub wetlands – 0.1 mile
- Does not cross emergent wetlands
- Has minimal crossing of open water – 0.1 mile
- Ranks fourth in terms of length of route parallel – within 100 feet – to streams or rivers
Also, that route’s ROW does not cross known rare/unique plant locations, the TPWD said.
Certain proposed route segments are problematic in terms of natural resource conservation, the TPWD said, adding that it recommends avoiding:
- Segments G2, X2, and X3, which would entail new transmission line ROW development; significant portions of those segments traverse modeled optimal habitat for Houston toad; Segment X2 appears to come within 500 feet of critical habitat for the Houston toad
The TPWD also listed construction recommendations, noting, for instance, that if trenching or other excavation is involved in construction, then TPWD recommends that contractors keep trenching/excavation and backfilling crews close together to minimize the amount of trenches/excavation areas left open at any given time during construction.
Discussing the Migratory Bird Treaty Act – which, as noted in the filing, prohibits direct and affirmative purposeful action that reduce migratory birds, their eggs, or their nests, by killing or capturing, to human control, except when specifically authorized by the U.S. Department of the Interior – the TPWD said that it recommends any vegetation clearing be scheduled outside of the general bird nesting season of March 15 to Sept. 15. However, if clearing must occur during nesting season, nest surveys should be conducted prior to clearing, the TPWD said.
Discussing endangered species, the TPWD noted that Navasota ladies’-tresses is a species subject to Endangered Species Act protection and appears to have suitable habitat within the project’s study area. The TPWD recommended avoiding disturbance to the areas of moist ground along wooded edges required by Navasota ladies’-tresses, and that if Navasota ladies’-tresses or its habitat would be impacted by the proposed project, then LCRA TSC should coordinate with the TPWD and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as appropriate, to determine avoidance, minimization, and mitigation strategies.
The TPWD also said that it recommends avoiding disturbance to the Brazos River and its tributaries, which are habitat for the federally endangered sharpnose shiner and small-eye shiner, and for the two federal candidates, smooth pimpleback and Texas fawnsfoot.
Among other things, the TPWD said that in addition to state- and federally protected species, it tracks special features, natural communities, and rare species that are not listed as threatened or endangered. Suitable habitat may be present within the study area for such rare species as the western burrowing owl, southern crawfish frog, and Florida pinkroot.
The TPWD said that it recommends that LCRA TSC assess the corridor of the commission-selected alternative route for suitable habitat for those rare species and avoid adverse impacts to them, if found.