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Sage grouse concern causes new power line delay

Published on May 23, 2012 3:01AM

Last changed on May 23, 2012 12:49PM

KETCHUM, Idaho (AP) -- Idaho's biggest utility is holding off for now on plans to build a new transmission line in the Wood River Valley due to uncertainty over sage grouse protections and habitat.

Since 2007, Idaho Power Co. has been working with community leaders to upgrade the region's power grid in a region that includes cities like Ketchum, Hailey, Bellevue and Fairfield. When planning first got under way, concerns about sage grouse were not an issue.

But the bird's diminishing population and threats to its habitat have become a major factor in public land use discussions in recent years.

In 2010, federal officials declared the bird a candidate for endangered species protections, and last year, a federal judge approved a settlement requiring officials to make a final decision on listing the bird by 2015. Currently, state officials and private landowners are developing a plan to improve the bird's population and habitat in hopes of averting a federal listing.

As a result, Idaho Power has put off making a final decision on building one of three power lines in the southern region of the Wood River Valley, according to Brett Dumas, environmental supervisor for Idaho Power.

"We don't really have enough information right now," Dumas told the Times-News in a story published Tuesday (http://bit.ly/LhPI6V).

The company's upgrade for the region was split into two parts. In the northern region, Idaho Power is adding a redundant power line to protect residents against blackouts.

In the south, Idaho Power planned to replace two transmission lines with higher-capacity lines. A possible third line also was proposed as a backup energy source for the southern region.

Dumas said he doesn't expect the northern project to be delayed, since most of that project crosses private land.

But the southern project is primarily located on federal land and is subject to an extensive permitting process with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

The BLM could decide to delay approving the permits until the agency finishes amending its sage grouse management plans, Jessica Gardetto, spokeswoman for the BLM office in Boise, said.

Earlier this year, the BLM put a two-year delay on a decision regarding the China Mountain Wind Project in south Twin Falls County because of its proposed location in priority sage grouse habitat.

"We don't have a hard and fast moratorium on approving transmission line projects but we do have to take a close look at how it could affect sage grouse habitat," Gardetto said. "If we feel it could impact the area then we would probably put a delay on the project instead of denying them a permit."


Information from: The Times-News, http://www.magicvalley.com

Copyright 2012 The AP.


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