Thursday, July 16, 2009

County: ‘No’ To Proposed Transmission Route

By Mike Sievers
SOCORRO – Some area residents and officials are balking at the proposed route of renewable-energy power transmission lines that would cut across the Rio Grande near San Antonio, N.M., and potentially impact the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge.
Socorro County’s Board of Commissioners unanimously voted to draft a resolution opposing the proposed route of the SunZia Southwest Transmission Project during its regular meeting Tuesday.
SunZia is planning to construct a power transmission system in New Mexico and Arizona to “harness clean, renewable energy,” according to its Web site.
“The SunZia Southwest Transmission Project would allow potential future development of power from renewable-energy sources, such as geothermal, wind and solar, to be transported by the SunZia Project to the Arizona and New Mexico regional transmission systems,” the SunZia site reads.
SunZia plans to select a route in November. The project is slated to begin operation in 2014 when construction is complete.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which is the lead agency on the project, had a recent open house at New Mexico Tech to solicit comments about the project and its proposed route. Much of the affected land belongs to the BLM, which will prepare an environmental impact statement required in order to issue a right-of-way permit needed to do the project.
Ian Calkins, public information officer for the SunZia project, said people at the scoping meeting were supportive of the project generally, and had varying opinions on the proposed and alternative routes. Calkins said SunZia hears the local concerns loud and clear.
“We see this as good news, that we’re getting feedback on the proposed routes,” Calkins said. “This is our starting point. These are very preliminary routes, and it’s very early in the process. This kind of feedback is extremely helpful.”
John Ryan, a contract employee of SunZia, said an alternative route would have the lines crossing the Rio Grande at Derry and would border the White Sands Missile Range.
“The commander of the range was adamant that that not be the proposed route. We have it included as an alternative route,” Ryan said. “We, too, have heard from the environmental community and the Bosque wildlife refuge and others around San Antonio, so we’re encouraging people to comment to the BLM.”
Ryan said the BLM may extend the comment period, which has ended, 30 days to allow for more feedback. People should comment via e-mail to or in writing to the Bureau of Land Management, SunZia Transmission Line Project, P.O. Box 27115, Santa Fe, NM 87502-0115. 
Margi Lucena, who lives just north of San Antonio, said the lines will run about a quarter-mile south of her home.
“The damage this could cause is unbelievable,” Lucena said. “These things are massive. They are massive power lines. You’ll probably be able to see them from Socorro and hear them from my house.”
Lucena said when she found out about the proposed project, “I started going to neighbors’ houses, and not one of them knew about it. Whatever public notices they had buried in the legal section … were not adequate.”
Lucena said officials at the Bosque NWR are “up in arms” about the proposal, but that could not be confirmed by the Mountain Mail on Wednesday. Marty Greenwood of the Socorro County Road Department said the Bosque is “definitely opposed to” the proposed route.
“It’s a huge, big insult to everything that everyone has tried to preserve,” Lucena said. “Anyone living in this area is going to be affected by this. This is so harmful.”
Ryan of SunZia is scheduled to speak at the next commission meeting, 6 p.m. Aug. 11, when the commissioners will consider the resolution.
County Manager Delilah Walsh mentioned the project toward the end of Tuesday’s meeting while delivering her report to the commission. She said in addition to locals having their views spoiled by transmission lines, the project could have environmental consequences, including interrupting the flight paths of birds at the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. The proposed route would not cut through the refuge, but would run north of it along Highway 380.
“My concerns are that with the proposed route, the line will move through San Antonio and cut through the river there. This would affect that community (the aesthetics of it), as well as the flight paths of birds at the refuge. I’ve expressed my preference for the line to run along the missile range,” Walsh stated in a typed report to the commission.
Walsh said drivers on Interstate 25 would see the transmission lines running north and then crossing the Rio Grande at San Antonio.
Commissioners said officials at White Sands Missile Range don’t want the project to border the range.
Commission Chairwoman Rosie Tripp noted the proposed route is not the same one SunZia presented to the board of commissioners several months ago, before November’s general election, which brought three new commissioners to the Socorro County government.
“I am not happy with the new route that they are proposing,” Tripp said.
Walsh and County Attorney Adren Nance said they would begin to draft a resolution that will be ready for the next meeting. People will be able to comment briefly about the proposal.
Commission Vice Chairman Danny Monette said the wind-generating plants that would supply power to the transmission project are not yet in place; there are only proposed sites, as the entire project is still on the drawing board.
The transmission project is one of two that the New Mexico Renewable Energy Transmission Authority hopes to finance, according to an April 17 article on the New Mexico Independent Web site. The 460-mile project would carry about 3,000 megawatts of power, mostly to Arizona, the article stated.

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