Obama administration delays decision on power lines through Kuna, Owyhee County

rbarker@idahostatesman.comNovember 12, 2013 

Proposed Gateway transmission line route.

The Obama administration put off indefinitely two controversial routes for the Gateway West Transmission Line through Kuna and Owyhee County in a decision released Tuesday.

The Bureau of Land Management approved the Wyoming and eastern Idaho route for the 990-mile power line and the segment that crosses Jerome, Twin Falls, and Cassia counties.

The 150- to 180-foot high, 500-kilovolt powerlines that would stretch from Glenrock, Wyo., to Murphy would be built by Rocky Mountain Power and Idaho Power. Most of the route is on rangeland, but the route through Southern Idaho is mostly farmland and has been bitterly opposed by officials in Cassia and Power counties.

“Gateway West is a high-priority project of the president’s power infrastructure initiative – a common-sense approach that is speeding job creation in the near-term while spurring the economy and increasing the nation’s competitiveness in the long-term,” said Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.

The two deferred routes from Jerome to the Hemingway substation near Melba run through farms and even the growing city of Kuna.

Cassia and Power counties had proposed an alternative route for their area, but it ran across high-quality habitat for the sage grouse, which the federal government is reviewing for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act. After the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes vetoed a route across the Fort Hall Indian Reservation, the BLM had few legal options.

“There just isn’t another place we can feasibly put it,” said Heather Feeney, a BLM spokeswoman in Boise.

The BLM initially approved two alternative routes across the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey area, which had been negotiated by Idaho Power, Ada and Owyhee counties and others collaboratively, avoiding much of the private land conflicts in the western edge. But as the BLM was completing its manuals for managing the National Landscape Conservation Areas — a designation put into law by the 2009 Omnibus Lands Act — it discovered it had to “enhance” the resources for raptor that the Birds of Prey area was designated to protect, BLM officials said.

The BLM decided it did not have time to reopen negotiations, and instead chose two routes through mostly private land in Kuna, Melba and mostly public land in Owyhee County. But that move angered residents, local and state officials who had participated in the negotiations. State and Idaho Power officials have continued to meet with BLM officials in Washington seeking a way to route the lines through the Birds of Prey area.

Gateway West is one of seven projects the Obama administration made a priority and put on the fast track to help tap into wind energy resources under development in southern Wyoming, make the system more reliable and save customers money.

“The line will strengthen the Western grid, bringing a diversified portfolio of renewable and conventional energy to meet the region’s projected growth in electricity demand,” Jewell said.

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