The Bureau of Land Management has delayed a decision on routes for the controversial Gateway West power line across southern Idaho.
The federal agency had tossed out two routes across the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey area that had been negotiated by the involved parties. Instead it chose a route through private land through Kuna and Melba, angering residents, local and state officials.
The final EIS was scheduled for release Friday but officials made the announcement of the delay at Idaho Gov. Butch Otter’s Capitol for a Day in Kuna.
“We’ve decided it was appropriate for us to take a pause,” said Walt George, BLM Gateway West project manager. “Hopefully we can find a place where everybody is satisfied.”
Residents expressed frustration with the process where a compromise reached by local BLM officials, Idaho Power and residents was rejected at the national level. BLM officials in Washington moved the routes, they said, to protect the landscape-conservation system that includes the Birds of Prey area.
“This is not a not-in my-back-yard issue,” said James Burch, of Melba. “The issue is the future of Kuna, the future of Melba.”
Melba is a rural community on the edge of Ada, Canyon and Owyhee counties near the Snake River. Burch said running the 90-feet-high 500-kilovolt line would mark Melba as the region grows.
“It effectively makes Melba the other side of the tracks,” Burch said.
Idaho Public Utilities Commissioner Paul Kjellander said there is no certainty the line will be built even if a route is approved. A route for a line north and south in eastern Idaho that was approved in the 1990s still has not broke ground.
Dale Willis, a developer from Phoenix, said he has spent “millions and millions” of dollars on a large farm outside of Melba. If the route is approved across his property as currently proposed, he said, he won’t be able to sell it even if the line is not built.
Several speakers wanted to know who will make the final decision. Kjellander explained the Idaho PUC will decide if ratepayers will reimburse Idaho Power for its capital expenditure by issuing a certificate of public need and necessity.
Since the cost for a powerline ranges from $1.5 million to $2.5 million per mile, “we want utilities to recognize we want the shortest route we can get,” Kjellander said.
But the route decision, Otter said, ultimately is in the hands of the Interior secretary. Outgoing Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has committed to send the BLM director to meet with Otter before the final EIS is out.
“We’re quite explicit the state believes the routes should go to the consensus route and that the preferred alternative routes should be abandoned,” Otter said.