Letter from commission addresses power line concerns

The Moffat County Commission issued a letter last week to the Bureau of Land Management addressing concerns about a proposed power line corridor along Seven Mile Ridge.

The commission unanimously approved July 5 a joint resolution with Carbon and Sweetwater counties in Wyoming outlining preferred power line routes for the TransWest Express Transmission and Gateway South projects.

“The letter was reviewed by the (Moffat County) Land Use Board,” said Jeff Comstock, county natural resources director, to the three-member county commission. “And, they unanimously suggested that you sign it.”

According to the letter, the commission would like to see the BLM address key issues before the Seven Mile Ridge route can be finalized.

Those issues include:

• Staying inside the two-mile wide corridor and not extending beyond it.

• Diverting a section of the corridor so not to disturb private landowners.

• Providing commissioners with an environmental and economic impact analysis.

• Researching the impact to native sage grouse.

• Blending Wyoming’s sage grouse calculations and core concepts along the entire length of the transmission line with the county’s local conservation plan.

• Moving Gateway South’s proposed capacitor station from Moffat County Road 4 to Maybell.

In addition to concerns that the TransWest Express and Gateway South routes do not align exactly along numerous portions of the two-mile wide corridor, the commission wrote that it noticed an instance in which the TransWest line “corner hops” across two parcels of private land.

“If additional power lines were to utilize the same corridor, they would be forced to negatively impact the private landowner,” the letter stated. “This may be addressed by shifting the corridor less than one mile onto all BLM managed land.”

The commission also states that the BLM perhaps too quickly brushed over environmental and economic impacts the power line corridor will have on Moffat County.

In particular, the commission wrote that it fears the BLM endorsed the power line projects to prevent future development allowances in the corridor, such as oil and natural gas exploration.

The commission requested the BLM “identify and commit to writing that its intent is not to encumber future projects,” the letter said.

According to the Northwest Colorado Sage Grouse Working Group, Moffat County is home to some of the most intense sage grouse monitoring in the migratory bird’s 11-state range.

Additionally, studies have shown sage grouse are particular and may return to breeding grounds, called leks, for decades.

“They have collared grandmothers, mothers and the next generations. And, they come back,” said Jean Stetson, a Moffat County Land Use Board member. “The tricky part about sage grouse and mitigation is the lack of evidence out there as to how sage grouse react to transmission lines.”

Stetson also worries about habitat destruction.

“So, Jean is questioning if you build a power line and you destroy a lek,” Comstock said. “Can you really create the habitat for another lek to form?”

In response to the important factor Moffat County plays in sage grouse population and habitat, the commission asked the BLM to complete regional and range-wide analysis of the bird and how transmission lines will affect its habitat.

The commission acknowledged the state of Wyoming as having respected core concepts regarding sage grouse protection.

It requested the BLM identify areas where Moffat County can blend Wyoming practices with the Northwest Colorado Sage Grouse Working Group’s conservation plan of 2008.

Because capacitor stations provide a hub for future power lines to the transmission system, commissioners ended the letter by requesting Gateway South’s capacitor be moved from its proposed location on Moffat County Road 4 to Maybell, and reasons for the request.

The commissioners prefer the Maybell location to limit future power lines to Seven Mile Ridge and the already disturbed U.S. Highway 40 corridor.

Sharon Knowlton, BLM project coordinator for TransWest Express, and Tamara Gertsch, BLM coordinator for Gateway South, could not be reached for comment.

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