Federal agencies are seeking input on the plan for a new 305-mile electric transmission line from the Boardman area, to a substation southwest of Boise.
The Bureau of Land Management and other agencies are in the midst of an environmental review of the Idaho Power Company project, because roughly one-third of the transmission line would pass through federally managed public lands. In addition to the BLM, the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Reclamation also manage land along the proposed route.
A draft environmental impact statement that the BLM released Dec. 19 includes suggestions for Idaho Power Company to alter the proposed route in three locations to minimize environmental impacts, in particular to avoid destruction of sage grouse habitat.
Officials in Oregon and other states have been expecting a decision in 2015 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on whether to list the bird under the Endangered Species Act, although recent a recent bill passed by Congress could delay that decision. Federal lawmakers attached a provision to a recent $1.1 trillion spending bill, in an attempt to prevent the Interior Department from spending any money on rules to protect the greater sage grouse and three related birds, The Associated Press reported.
The BLM also examined the potential impacts of the transmission line on agriculture, historical resources in the area such as the National Historic Oregon Trail and ongoing use of public lands by American Indian tribes.
The transmission line would add capacity for times of peak demand, and it is one of the transmission projects prioritized by the Obama administration to improve the power grid and allow for integration of more renewable energy sources, according to the Bureau of Land Management.
Although the White House wants to speed up permitting of transmission projects, the project still faces a lengthy approval process.
The Bureau of Land Management is accepting comments on the draft environmental report. The agency plans to analyze comments and prepare a final environmental document by early 2016. If the power company begins construction in 2018, it could complete the project by 2020.
Stephanie McCurdy, a communications specialist with Idaho Power Company, said the utility is simultaneously going through a process with the Oregon Department of Energy to gain approval for the project. The public will have an opportunity to comment in Oregon’s process once the utility has completed its application.
J.R. Cook, director of a group called the Northeast Oregon Water Association that represents water users in the area, said the route initially proposed by Idaho Power Company would not have much of an impact on irrigated agriculture in the area. But an alternative route proposed by federal agencies in the draft environmental document would cut through valuable agricultural land.
“It’s irreplaceable,” Cook said of irrigated farmland that would be affected. “We’ve stressed the fact you can relocate a line, and you can route around this ground.”
It could be difficult for farmers to convince federal agencies that the transmission line should follow a different route, because the transmission line cannot interfere with activities at the nearby Naval Weapons Systems Training Facility Boardman. However, Cook said he believes it is still possible to design a better option.
The public can comment on the draft environmental document until March 19, 2015.
For more information or to submit comments online, visit www.boardmantohemingway.com.
If you go
Boardman to Hemingway transmission line open houses
When: Jan. 5, 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Where: Port of Morrow Riverfront Center, 2 Marine Drive, Boardman
When: Jan. 6, 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Where: Convention Center, 1601 Westgate, Pendleton
When: Jan. 7, 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Where: Blue Mountains Conference Center, 404 12th Street, La Grande
When: Jan. 8, 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Where: Best Western Sunridge Inn, 1 Sunridge Lane, Baker City
When: Jan. 9, 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Where: Durkee Community Hall, 28716 Old Highway 30, Durkee
When: Jan. 12, 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Where: Four Rivers Cultural Center, 676 SW 5th Avenue, Ontario