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Public scopes out plans for transmission line project

High voltage transmission lines were the topic of discussion at a public scoping meeting put on by the Bureau of Land Management, the lead agency that oversees the environmental impact statement and possible resource management plans for the SunZia Southwest Transmission Project. About 90 residents attended the open house Tuesday, April 27, hoping to gather additional information.

High voltage transmission lines were the topic of discussion at a public scoping meeting put on by the Bureau of Land Management, the lead agency that oversees the environmental impact statement and possible resource management plans for the SunZia Southwest Transmission Project.

About 90 residents attended the open house Tuesday, April 27, hoping to gather additional information on where the proposed project route would run and how it would impact their properties as well as the surrounding areas wildlife refuges.

The 500-kilovolt transmission line project spans approximately 500 miles from central New Mexico to south central Arizona and would entail constructing approximately 1,500 towers along the proposed routes. Depending on the design of the steel transmission towers, their height could range from 130 feet to 160 feet and the right-of-way could range from 200 feet per line up to 1,000 feet for two lines. SunZia consultant Jim Matterer said there would be about three to four towers per mile.

"There's more wind energy here in New Mexico," Matterer explained. "Eventually there will be two lines, not necessarily next to each other - and they may... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

High voltage transmission lines were the topic of discussion at a public scoping meeting put on by the Bureau of Land Management, the lead agency that oversees the environmental impact statement and possible resource management plans for the SunZia Southwest Transmission Project.

About 90 residents attended the open house Tuesday, April 27, hoping to gather additional information on where the proposed project route would run and how it would impact their properties as well as the surrounding areas wildlife refuges.

The 500-kilovolt transmission line project spans approximately 500 miles from central New Mexico to south central Arizona and would entail constructing approximately 1,500 towers along the proposed routes. Depending on the design of the steel transmission towers, their height could range from 130 feet to 160 feet and the right-of-way could range from 200 feet per line up to 1,000 feet for two lines. SunZia consultant Jim Matterer said there would be about three to four towers per mile.

"There's more wind energy here in New Mexico," Matterer explained. "Eventually there will be two lines, not necessarily next to each other - and they may or may not go the same route."

Although scoping meetings were first held in 2009, the public input comment period was extended to allow for more information regarding concerns with the project to be submitted and to further expand the study area, which now reaches farther north to Belen and, in Arizona, farther south to include Tucson and Benson. While the final route will constitute approximately 500 miles, there are more than 3,000 miles of alternative routes drawn up in the study.

Because of the expanded scope of the project, the public will have until Thursday, June 10, to comment on the project.

The transmission line project by SunZia is just that - transmission lines. It does not include the generation of energy, distribution stations or substations that will be necessary to bring renewable energy to fruition. Other companies are buying up large parcels said SunZia spokesman Ian Calkins.

"We hope all are completed at the same time," Calkins said. "We want to move ahead and come online at the same time."

BLM Project Manager Adrian Garcia said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has expressed concerns on the impact the lines will have on wildlife in the area where transmission lines are routed. The environmental impact statement will address these issues raised, but Garica said there isn't hard evidence that it will affect it.

"To me personally, there will be an impact," Garcia said of the affect on the wildlife.

Sevilleta Refuge Manager Kathy Granillo said their preference on which route should be used is located on the east side of White Sands Missle Range south to Fort Bliss.

"That would have the least impact on fish and wildlife," Granillo said. "Our second favorite is on the west side (of WSMR) down to Derry-Arrey. I think that's our best option."

Another idea proposed for minimizing the impact on the wildlife near the Rio Grande is instead of going across the river, why not put them underground. A study is being conducted to see if that is feasible and to determine the cost of considering that alternative.

"To bury the line under the river would cost more but there would be less impact," Garcia said.

SunZia Project manager Tom Wray said they have a duty to minimize the environmental impact and plan to do just that.

"We have to look at mitigation that will work and is acceptable to U.S. Fish and Wildlife," Wray said.

Wray went on to say implementing standard marker balls as a birding deterrent on transmission lines has worked on lines over the Mississippi River which is a major flyway for birds.

He said the University of New Mexico, under contract to BLM is looking at migratory bird patterns, various wind conditions and at what altitude birds are flying to inventory (bird) traffic.

"We want as much information as we can get so we can make the best decision," Wray said of picking the route.

Residents whose properties lie along some of the proposed routes had plenty to say about the project.

"This is not people friendly," said Margi Lucena, whose property is north of San Antonio, N.M. "And, it's an absolute eyesore. I can't imagine the magnetic fields - the scary stuff. This is wind energy - why spend millions of dollars to do this. Let Arizona provide their own energy."

Another resident raised concerns about the impact on wildlife in the area and how the high voltage transmission lines would affect the migrating birds along the Rio Grande.

"There are 60,000 ducks, 20,000 cranes and 30,000 to 40,000 geese that use this flyway and have been doing it for 60,000 years," said Skeeter Leard, who also resides just north of San Antonio. "It's not possible to change (their fly patterns) unless you destroy them."

"They (the birds) will fly into them (the transmission lines)," Lucena added. "Can we take a chance like that?"

Landowner Matthew Mitchell, who is on the board of the Rio Grande Agricultural Land Trust, said there are 300 acres of conservation easements comprised of riparian and farmland. The RGALT works to preserve wildlife habitats, agriculture and open space through voluntary easements and Mitchell said if the route of transmission lines goes across the property they are protecting then it will go to court.

"The Nature Conservancy lands are excluded," Mitchell said. "We should be too."

Although Mitchell said everyone would like to see more renewable energy and not depend on foreign energy such as oil, 'a riparian cooridor is not the place to do this.'"

With two wildlife refuges is Socorro County State Rep. Don Tripp said he would prefer to see the project route run east of Carrizozo and WSMR even though it would mean less tax dollars for Socorro.

"I'd like to see them bypass us," Tripp said.

Republican Sen. John Ryan said every proposed route has its hurdles and you can't predetermine the outcome without going through the process of the studies and scoping meetings.

"I think there is a lot of good turnout - people coming in to look at the routes and process," Ryan said. "There are lots of government entities and elected officials here (to answer questions) and a court reporter (to record peoples comments."

"The comments need to be constructive comments - how it impacts things like the birds," Tripp added.

Utilizing wind, solar and geothermal energy is in demand nationwide said Calkins and they are optimistic that the project will get built.

"Those resources (wind, solar and geothermal) remain stranded unless we build the project," Calkins of the project that started out as a concept in 2006. "The project will likely be built in phases."

The projected timeline of the project shows the draft of the environmental impact statement to be completed at the end of this year with the final environmental impact statement ready in the fall of 2011 with a time for public review. The permitting process should then be complete by spring 2012, with construction beginning in 2013, if all goes according to the plans.

"There's still a long way to go," Calkins said. "I think it will be a good thing for New Mexico and Arizona and a good thing for our country."

For more information on the project and the proposed route maps, visit www.blm.gov/nm/st/en/prog/more/lands_realty/sunzia_southwest_transmission.html or http://sunzia.net/

Written comments must be submitted by Thursday, June 10, either by e-mail to NMSunZiaProject@blm.gov This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ; on BLM's website at www.blm.gov/nm/st/en/prog/more/lands_realty.html; or by mail to BLM New Mexico State Office, SunZia Southwest Transmission Project, P.O. Box 27115, Santa Fe, NM 85702; or hand delivered to 301 Dinosaur Trail, Santa Fe, N.M.


Source: http://www.dchieftain.com/d...

MAY 1 2010
http://www.windaction.org/posts/26044-public-scopes-out-plans-for-transmission-line-project
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