TransWest urged to ‘do the right thing’ on eminent domain in Moffat County
February 19, 2019
With the approval of TransWest's conditional use permit Tuesday, Feb. 19, by the Moffat County Board of County Commissioners, a cross-country electric transmission line some nine years in the making is getting closer to beginning construction in northwestern Moffat County.
The massive proposed electric infrastructure project could bring 3,000 megawatts of wind-generated energy across Wyoming, Moffat County, Utah, and Nevada.
Though at least two landowners attended Tuesday's BOCC meeting to protest TransWest's conditional use permit, commissioners approved the permit under the stipulation TransWest would secure the proper agreements with all 17 remaining landowners in Moffat County before beginning construction.
"We will never start construction until we acquire the legal rights to do so," said Garry Miller, vice president of land and environmental affairs for TransWest.
Miller gave commissioners and the public a presentation Tuesday outlining plans and the timeline for construction. Miller explained TransWest had to wait some eight years for an environmental impact study by the Bureau of Land Management for easements on federally managed land. TransWest is also building special steel pole transmission structures to accommodate any sage-grouse territory.
"They are requiring we use that for about 11 miles of the route," Miller said of the path across BLM land.
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Commissioner Don Cook pointed out TransWest has yet receive an official notice to proceed from BLM. Cook also wanted to know how much water TransWest would use for the project. Miller didn't "have a detailed answer yet" to these questions, but said he's been in negotiations with nearby cities and energy companies who own wells to purchase the 45 acre-feet of water that will be needed, much of it for concrete work.
Following Miller's presentation, commissioners opened a public hearing on the TransWest conditional use permit. First to testify was Andrew Maneotis, who told commissioners he didn't want them to approve any permit because, no matter how nice TransWest representatives may be, their contractors may end up causing havoc on private land. Among the many problems Maneotis said he’s already faced, he told of about 70 of his cattle that once managed to "walk right out onto the interstate" due to a gate that was opened and left unlocked.
"What you gonna do when they run around all over, and they're not staying on the right-of-way, and they're going off into the middle of nowhere?" Maneotis asked TransWest's contractors. "They can't control their employees, guys. They won't. I've seen it since I was a little kid."
Harold Rollins also testified against the conditional use permit, saying TransWest should secure agreements with other landowners like him before receiving its permit.
"My recommendation is you do not approve this permit — this conditional use permit — until they show they have all the right of way from landowners," Rollins said. "I don't care how many stipulations you put on it."
Miller acted to assuage the concerns of commissioners and landowners, saying he doesn't doubt the frustrations experienced when contractors come onto private property. Miller said he also has a large ranch in Wyoming and has experienced the same frustrations.
"I don't doubt those things do happen," Miller said of damage to private property by contractors. Miller said if any damage occurs, TransWest will fix it and hold contractors accountable.
"If something does happen, we come back and make it right," Miller said.
Eventually, it came time for a vote on TransWest's conditional use permit. All commissioners were sure to highlight the need for protecting property owners and their rights and questioned if their vote should be put off for a month or two before all three commissioners ultimately approved TransWest's conditional use permit.
"I will say ‘aye’ reluctantly," Cook said.
In a January interview, Jerry Hoberg, Moffat County’s planner and airport manager, said even if TransWest’s conditional use permit is approved by county commissioners, TransWest will still have to secure agreements with the private landowners before construction of the transmission line can begin.
“If they don’t get property owners’ approval, the conditional use permit won’t mean anything,” Hoberg said.
Cook said he hopes TransWest will "do the right thing" and ensure property owners aren't forced into eminent domain proceedings, whereby a 250-foot-wide slice of land is sold by force.
"I just do not want Transwest to go down the condemnation route," Cook said. "I really do not."
TransWest says residents in Craig and Moffat County will see benefits almost immediately from increased "employment and expenditures, property taxes, and increased sales and use tax revenue," which TransWest estimates will be about $1.3 million in the project's first year.
"Over the estimated 50-year life of the project, TransWest will pay about $31.4 million in property taxes in the aggregate," the application said. "This will make the TWE project one of the largest property tax payers in Moffat County."
Contact Clay Thorp at 970-875-1795 or firstname.lastname@example.org.