County task force criticizes route for transmission line

BLM says it is up to Power County to find a route through Rockland Valley

by Daniel Moore
Press staff writer

The Power County and Cassia County task forces on the line wasted no time in criticizing the Wyoming BLM’s study on the Gateway West Transmission Line. The BLM’s preferred route for Gateway West would run on agricultural ground in Arbon Valley, Rockland Valley and through the Neeley area southwest of American Falls. Friday, April 26, started the 60-day comment period for the study.

The study, called an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), will receive more public comment before the BLM gives the right-of-way for public lands.

“Studies included in the EIS, as well as several task force member’s personal experience, have proven that agriculture and high voltage electric transmission towers and lines are simply not compatible,” said a press release from the task forces.

The task forces wanted the line to run further south, along the Idaho/Utah border, citing that in Idaho, unlike other states, it is up to counties to route the lines. The BLM felt the southern route would interrupt sage grouse. However, the BLM tried to side step the issue in the EIS, leaving it up to Power County to route the line through private property in the Rockland Valley.

“The BLM has no position on the final location for the portion of Alternative 5B in the Rockland Valley. Alternative 5B was selected because it minimizes impacts to public land resources in the Deep Creek Mountains. The final transmission line alignment across private land in the Rockland Valley (or any stretches of private land) should be determined by the local government (Power County), private land owners, and the Proponents (Idaho Power and Rocky Mountain Power), following state law and local procedures. If invited, the BLM would participate in final siting discussions for this area,” the EIS stated.

Task force attorney Doug Balfour said that if the BLM believes it can route the line anywhere on public land and then leave private land up to the county, it will not work. The two plans must correlate, or the line will not be built, he said.

“The BLM ignored what we said,” Balfour said to the Power County Commissioners at a work meeting that Friday, “Both counties have about 70 to 80 percent of the line on private land.”

Five years after the study began, the BLM wants to move on, Balfour said. However, the map showing sage grouse habitat is out of date and does not match the map used by Idaho Fish and Game. The Idaho Fish and Game map does not place priority sage grouse habitat in the area suggested by the task forces, Balfour said. Balfour felt the Wyoming BLM should have waited to include a new map the Idaho BLM is completing on sage grouse habitat. Because the line construction will start in Wyoming, the Wyoming BLM is the lead agency on the study.

Balfour also did not like that a possible underground option was not part of the study. He suggested to the commissioners and county prosecutor Ryan Petersen that the county add to its transmission line ordinance that an underground option must be at least studied before a transmission line can be built in the county. Unlike many states, Idaho designates counties as the lead authority for transmission line routing.

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