The Bureau of Land Management was due to release its final recommendation Friday for the Gateway West route across Southern Idaho.
Weve decided it was appropriate for us to take a pause, Walt George, BLMs Gateway West project manager, said at Gov. Butch Otters Capital for a Day event. Hopefully, we can find a place where everybody is satisfied.
Finding a route for the massive project has been complicated. Residents complained about a 2009 recommendation that brought the lines too close to several communities, including Kuna.
Local, federal and utility officials worked out a compromise route across federal land in the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey area. But in October, the bureau tossed out that plan, choosing instead a route on private land through Kuna and Melba angering residents as well as local and state officials.
The 1,150-mile Gateway West line would run from Glenrock, Wyo., to Murphy and would expand transmission capacity across the Intermountain West. The line includes two routes in Idaho to ensure reliability, one through the Treasure Valley and the other south in Owyhee County, before coming back together at the Hemingway power station near Melba.
The line was first designed to provide more access to Utah and Western markets for Wyomings coal-powered electric generation. Now Rocky Mountain Power and others have developed hundreds of megawatts of wind power in Wyoming and Idaho that the line could carry.
But state officials say electricity demand has dropped because of the recession and strong energy-efficiency programs. That has removed some of the pressure to complete the line quickly.
Even if BLM approves the route early this year, construction is not expected to begin before 2015.
REJECTING THE LOCAL COMPROMISE
Officials in Washington relocated the compromised local route, they said, to protect the system that guides management decisions on the Birds of Prey area.
At the Kuna event Friday, citizens expressed their frustration.
This is not a not-in-my-backyard issue, said James Burch of Melba. The issue is the future of Kuna, the future of Melba.
Burch said running the 90-foot-tall, 500-kilovolt line would hurt Melba as the region grows.
It effectively makes Melba the other side of the tracks, Burch said.
Idaho Public Utilities Commissioner Paul Kjellander said there is no certainty the line will be built even if a route is approved. A route for a north-south line in eastern Idaho approved in the 1990s still has not broken ground.
Dale Willis, a developer from Phoenix, said he has spent millions and millions of dollars on a large farm outside of Melba. If the route is approved across his property, he wont be able to sell it even if the line is not built, he said. No one would want to buy a farm that could be a site for giant transmission towers.
Several speakers wanted to know who will make the final decision. Kjellander said the Idaho PUC will make the financing decision. Since the cost for a power line ranges from $1.5 million to $2.5 million per mile, we want utilities to recognize we want the shortest route we can get, Kjellander said.
Idaho counties, Idaho Power and even the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission have a say on the route.
But the real decision, Otter said, comes down to the Interior secretary, because so much of the line will have to cross federal land.
Outgoing Secretary Ken Salazar has committed to send the BLM director to meet with Otter before the final environmental impact statement and route recommendation is out.
Were quite explicit the state believes the routes should go to the consensus, Otter said.
Rocky Barker: 377-6484