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PUC meeting draws a packed house

by Susan Simons

WALSENBURG- More than 100 folks attended the Public Utility Commission Hearing in Walsenburg Mon. Nov 9 on the Tri-State/Xcel proposal to build a 230-kilovolt transmission line which would connect a new Walsenburg substation to Pueblo and to Alamosa.  This project is sometimes called the San Luis Valley Power Line and also the Southern Colorado Transmission Improvement Project.

    Judge Mana Jennings-Fader, who is one of five administrative judges at the PUC and who has been selected to preside in this issue, explained the proceedings to the crowd.  This public hearing was a formal event and courtroom decorum was required.  Speakers must sign in and be sworn under oath. Their testimony would be transcribed by a court reporter, and they could be questioned after their presentation by PUC Commissioners.  The contents of this hearing would be part of the evidentiary hearings before the PUC in Jan.-Feb. where intervenors, those who have hired attorneys to support or oppose the power line project, will present their arguments.

    Approximately 20 persons signed up to speak.  Most spoke to oppose the project and and/or to oppose a particular proposed route, for example, the route over La Veta Pass.

    Speakers were concerned that property owners had not received prior notification and that many homes, outbuildings, and family cemeteries were not recorded on the project maps.  They discussed the impact on health and well-being, on wildlife, and on property values.  Ironically, by the time of this hearing, the La Veta Pass route had been dropped from consideration.

    Judge Fader reminded the crowd that the PUC will not decide the route but only consider the need for the project and whether it is in the public interest.  She remarked that the decision about routes would be made initially by the County Planning and Zoning Commission and the County Commissioners.

    In the most dramatic moment of the evening, County Commissioner Roger Cain spoke for all three commissioners saying that the commissioners will support only one route for the proposed transmission line.  He described it as the “northern route as close as possible to the existing ARCO line.”  This line is an existing lower voltage power line originally built by ARCO, then bought by BP, and now owned by Oxy Petroleum.  Cain went on to add that this route should go all the way to Pass Creek, then cross the Sangre de Cristos at Oak Creek Pass or Sangre de Cristo Creek Pass and follow down Sangre de Cristo Creek to Fort Garland on either the north or south side of the highway.

    When asked if the commissioners could determine the final route selection, Cain remarked that the decision of the commissioners had a “lot of bite” and that once the power line route passed out of the county, the San Luis Valley commissioners would make the decisions.

    The PUC  held a similar hearing in Alamosa the evening of Nov. 10.  Anyone who wants to comment may send written comments to the PUC until Dec. 11.  Comments should be sent to the PUC, 1560 Broadway, Suite 250, Denver, CO 80202 and addressed to Docket No. 09A-324E/09A-325E.  Or comments may be sent electronically to