TWIN FALLS • With controversy still swirling around certain sections of the Gateway West Transmission Line project, a federal agency is considering approving the route in phases rather than all at once.
The announcement is part of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s recent release of its final review of the transmission project. Also included in the plan is analysis of the project’s effects and proposed routes.
After spending years preparing the final plan, this is the first time the BLM announced it would consider phasing approval of the routes.
The 1,100-mile project is being backed by Idaho Power Co. and Rocky Mountain Power. Once completed, the transmission line would upgrade electric transmission capabilities for southern Idaho and southern Wyoming.
The agency is considering the new option because it wants to have more agreement in areas where local landowners and officials have repeatedly contested the proposed routes, said Walt George, project manager.
“The goal is to find the broadest sense of consensus,” George said. “While the line of consensus is subjective … what we would like to do is find a reasonable amount of consensus in each location.”
However, due to the large amount of the route cutting through private land, most of the controversy over the transmission route remains in Idaho, George said.
Unlike in Idaho, the Gateway West route would go through mostly rangeland in Wyoming and follow the Pacific Railroad, he said. In Idaho, the route would cut through large sections of farm land.
“Those lands are valued significantly higher,” George said.
So far, Idaho’s most heated Gateway Way sections remain in Kuna, Cassia and Power counties.
For example, the Cassia County Gateway West Task Force has repeatedly voiced resistance to the transmission route using private land. Despite offering alternatives, the BLM’s final review recommends using more than 100 acres of private land and 25 acres of public land.
“We’re quite disappointed,” said Cassia County Gateway West Task Force Chairman Brent Stoker. “Everything we ever pointed out to them has come back to haunt us. We used to think it might change, but now it’s going to be very difficult.”
Under federal law, the BLM can’t identify in advance what sections they would wait to phase in for approval, said Heather Feeney, a spokeswoman for the Idaho BLM office.
But if the agency decides to phase in permit approval, the BLM would first approve segments that have independent utility – or segments that attach to a substation.
“We’re not going to approve a patchwork or segments, we don’t want to have a power line to nowhere,” Feeney said. “Construction is a phase itself so we believe we could work with the applicant on finding the best way to phase in the route.”