In a 3-2 vote, the Conditional Use Permit for the Gateway West Segment D-1 transmission line was approved at the Feb. 2 Carbon County Commissioners meeting, with County Commissioner Chairman John Johnson and Commissioner Byron Barkhurst the opposing votes; The meeting had originally been tabled at the Dec. 15, 2020 meeting.
Rod Fisher, Director of Community Relations for PacificCorp and Rocky Mountain Power, appeared without council to again seek the approval of the needed permit to build the transmission line. He came with answere about the cost of moving “approximately three miles” of the planned D-1 segment of the power line.
The goal is to move it across the road, to the east side of Highway 487 in Shirley Basin, where it would parallel an existing power line, instead of creating a new power line right-of-way on the west side of the road.
This relocation was requested by Joan McGraw, representing the Medicine Bow Conservation District (MBCD) and the Carbon County Planning and Zoning Commission, as well as local landowners. Their interest is to reduce the land disturbance in this portion of Shirley Basin and consolidate these lines closer together.
By the end of the meeting, both Fisher and commissioners were in agreement as to what was being requested: to relocate just three miles of the 20-mile power line planned to travel north from the Shirley Basin Substation into Natrona County to the Windstar Substation. The move would place a new powerline into an established powerline corridor, where all the research and permitting had already been previously approved.
However, prior to the meeting’s end, what Fisher offered was a proposal to move the entire 20 miles of power line to the east side of the highway, including the 16 miles that cross BLM lands.
“We are looking to pick the whole line up from the Shirley Basin Substation to the Natrona County line and place it on the east side of Highway 487,” said Fisher.
Such a decision would require PacificCorp to abandon an already approved powerline route design that took 13 years and $3.6 million to complete and has already been approved by all parties, including the BLM.
During the course of his presentation Fisher repeatedly reminded commissioners of how many jobs these projects create and how many millions of dollars in various taxes PacificCorp pays to the county and state. He also highlighted how active his company is with their charity donations in the county and listed several of the recent recipients.
Fisher showed the Commissioners a series of slides outlining the cost of changing this project and explained that after so many years of experience with this project his company has a firm cost of $94,000 a mile to survey a powerline route in Carbon County. “Multiply that times a 20 mile reroute,” he said.
“The bottom line here is that we think it might be doable to relocate this project at a rough cost of $2.4 million dollars,” he said. He added there would be a time delay of 18 to 20 months due to the need to work with the local BLM office to gain a new NEPA permit, said Fisher.
Fisher did not provide an estimated cost of relocating just the three miles requested by the Commissioners. At $94,000 a mile that would be an estimated cost of $282,000. Since no BLM land is located in this three miles section of line, there does not appear to be any need to rework the Federal NEPA permit. This could possibly reduce the 20-month delay forecast.
Fisher went on to say this request to move this line route, “puts at risk all of our Energy Vision 2024 planned investments in Wyoming (some) $3.5 billion that PacificCorp is looking to invest in Wyoming in the next four years.
“It puts at risk our Gateway South project that the commissioners have already approved,” said Fisher. “It also puts this project at risk. Can we get this section of line re-permitted and constructed by 2024, after having met all the county’s planning and zoning requirements. “We are here today to ask you to honor the (original) route that was developed through the NEPA process and approve the Conditional Use Permit.”
COMMISSIONERS ASK, COMMENT
While all commissioners weighed in, it was Barkhurst who asked the most direct questions, among those being who made the decision to move the whole 20 miles of the line and why that was necessary. Barkhurst stated that the meeting minutes recorded that only three miles of powerline were asked to be moved.
“The buck stops with me,” Fisher said. “The takeaway that I had from the Dec. 15 meeting was to minimize the disturbance (of the land) and put the two lines together in Carbon County.”
That was not Barkhurst’s recollection.
“I left the meeting thinking that we would be talking about hundreds of thousands, not millions of dollars for the move.,” he said. “I guess I was shocked with this presentation, to be candid. I thought we were just going to have this impact of moving this line to the other side of the roadway next to the line that is already there and (then) jumping back over (the highway) to hit the substation.”
He added he had expected the time frame to do this and the cost would be minimal for such a large project.
Both Johnson and Fisher attributed the misunderstanding of the first meeting having been a Zoom meeting due to pending weather concerns that day.
Fisher also referenced his interaction with Joan McGraw of MBCD, as well as with a Mr. Heward, a major landowner in the Basin, both of whom had objected to the original line location in the Shirley Basin.
“We had some very good conversations with them over this past week. We are looking to find ways to partner with the Conservation District, possibly to help us with our Sage Grouse mitigation obligations requirements with the BLM. There will be many other opportunities for us to work with the district as well in the future.” said Fisher.
While three commissioners did vote to approve this permit all five of them went on the record as to their uncomfortableness or concern with this whole process.