by Susan Simons
HUERFANO- Public involvement was the purpose of the scoping meetings held Aug. 19 in Gardner and Walsenburg, sponsored by Tri-State Transmission and Generation, Public Service of Colorado (PSCo), and USDA-Rural Utilities Services (RUS).
The public was invited to get more information about the proposed 230-volt transmission line to be built between Walsenburg and Alamosa and the 345-volt transmission line to be constructed between Walsenburg and Pueblo. Tri-State, a consumer-owned rural electric cooperative, and PSCo, part of investor-owned Xcel Energy, have asked for federal funding from USDA-RUS which loans money to rural electric cooperatives for system improvements. The involvement of RUS means that the project will be federally financed rather than privately funded and will follow federal guidelines.
At the scoping meeting, the companies provided displays, detailed maps, and literature about the project which will bring more energy into the San Luis Valley, add to the reliability of the delivery system, and provide a corridor for delivery of power produced by renewable energy projects in southern Colorado.
About two dozen spokespersons from Tri-State and Excel were on hand to answer questions. In Gardner, 42 persons showed up at the meeting and 78 came in Walsenburg. Company representatives seemed genuinely interested in what Huerfano landowners could tell them about landowner concerns, environmental issues, the lay of the land and issues with water, weather, and wind that might affect construction in the proposed alternative routes.
Of greatest interest to most landowners were the maps which clearly identified not just corridors for the proposed line, but actual proposed routes identified with numbers. Maps 6 and 7 interconnect to show most of the area between highway 69 to the north, I-25 to the east, highway 160 to the south, and the Sangre de Cristo mountains to the west. County roads are clearly marked on the maps as are landowners names and some residences. A company spokesperson said that aerial surveys would be one method used to locate additional residences on the maps. These maps are available online at www.socotransmission.com. It is necessary to enlarge a sectionof the maps to see the details mentioned above. The companies want public comments, and a form is available at this website to write in individual comments about the placement of the transmission line.
All the proposed alternative routes begin at a substation called the Calumet substation to be built at Red Rocks Road and highway 69, about six miles north of Walsenburg. Among the proposed alternative routes was one that parallels highway 69 heading west, then turns south just west of the junction with CR 520. Several possible routes fingered out from there, some along CR 530, 531, and 532. Two other proposed routes cut through Majors Ranch: one between highway 69 and CR 521 and the other east of CR 521 about a mile. All the proposed routes cross into the San Luis Valley at La Veta pass.
The public meetings were the last step in the initial Corridor Identification Phase. Next is the Route Refinement Phase during which the companies will address specific public concerns and analyze the alternative routes. They will again ask for public comment in fall of 2009 on fewer and more specific alternative routes. In the final phase, they will choose a preferred route and a couple of alternatives which will be analyzed under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). They will ask for public comment again in fall 2010.
The companies will need a 150 foot right of way (ROW) to construct the 230-volt line and 200 foot ROW to construct the 345-volt line as well as access easements to construct and maintain the line. The companies would use market data from recent sales to determine compensation. If a reasonable settlement cannot be made, they will “exercise their eminent domain authority.”
The steel structures would be between 100-150 feet tall, with the lowest conductors about 28 feet above the ground. The structures would be about 800-1,200 feet apart. In general, agricultural activities can go on within the easements, but landowners need to be careful with activities such as operating tall equipment, fueling vehicles, or moving irrigation pipes within the easement to avoid contact with the line. One spokesperson said that the line would be no closer than a quarter of a mile from any existing structure but that 75 feet is the closest it can be according to the National Electric Safety Code.
This public comment period ends September 21. The comments will become part of the review process. Go to www.socotransmission.com to comment or see maps of the proposed corridors.