Labrador and national conservation group have contrasting views about Gateway West routes

Idaho Republican Rep. Raul Labrador says the Bureau of Land Management’s preferred alternative routes for the Gateway West high power line though southwest Idaho have serious defects.

But a national environmental group said the so-called consensus routes across the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey area that the BLM routes replaced, were themselves potentially flawed. The conflicting views underscores the challenges the Department of Interior faces in its efforts to resolve what has become a major controversy blocking the 1,150-mile project, which would be the largest industrial project in the nation.

“In a time of rising energy prices, the Obama Administration has chosen to simply ignore the collaborative solution reached by local stake holders in favor of a route that would likely result in additional delays,” Labrador said in a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

In 2009, Ada and Owyhee county officials protested that the proposed line and its high towers come too close to their communities and could limit development and affect residents’ quality of life. So the communities worked out two separate deals with the utilities and local BLM officials to move the routes away from private land to two routes across the Birds of Prey area on BLM land south of Kuna.

After those deals were worked out locally the BLM completed rules for managing National Landscape Conservation Areas, a designation put into law by the 2009 Omnibus Lands Act that designated wilderness in Owyhee County. Those rules established a process for siting rights of ways cross National Landscape Conservation Areas, which the Birds of Prey Area is now designated.

The new rules requires the BLM show the area and the values it was set aside to protect would be enhanced by the power line. If they don’t, the lines could still be built but Idaho Power Co. would have to pay mitigation to ensure that overall raptors, the resource for which the area was established to protect, would be enhanced.

That’s why Brian O’ Donnell, executive director of the Conservation Land Foundation in Durango, Colorado think the BLM has done the right thing moving the routes largely out of the Bird of Prey.

“What happens there also impacts what happens in the California desert and any state where we have conservation lands,” he said.

Labrador said one of the BLM’s preferred alternatives passes through the Birds of Prey in three specific areas for more than 15 miles. He also says the BLM’s disregard for the “stakeholder collaborative process” is at odds with existing federal law.

He wants Salazar to support the two routes through the Birds of Prey.

Labrador doesn’t address O’Donnell’s concerns, but Salazar doesn’t have that option.

So what we have are not only clashing values but dueling processes. Salazar now has to find a new consensus by going through his own new process.

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