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Line to be built on mostly private land in Power, Cassia counties

Published On: Dec 24 2013 02:59:57 PM CST
Updated On: Nov 13 2013 06:23:40 PM CST

While the Bureau of Land Management could only speak for where the lines could go on the lands it manages, the only alternative is irreplaceable farmland.

The final path has been decided for the Gateway West Project, which will build a 1,000 mile-long, 500,000 volt transmission line through Wyoming and Idaho. With 44 counties in Idaho, 16 will see this transmission line.

But many who live in Power and Cassia counties are unhappy with the decision -- 80 percent of the line that will run through those counties will be built on private lands, and will run through farms.

The Bureau of Land Management stated Tuesday it had to follow the law regarding sage grouse, which are close to being on the endangered species list.

"A listing of sage grouse would deeply impact the entire economy of the Intermountain West," said BLM spokesperson Heather Feeney. "That's what we're working to try and avoid."

Many farmers have spoken with Power County and Cassia County Gateway Transmission Line Task Force Spokesperson Doug Balfour. Some told him they will have no choice but to shut down their farms, losing their livelihood, letting go of their farmhands and seeing that affect the entire farming economy.

He said the farmers can't simply work around the area of the tower, and there's nowhere to start farming other plots of land.

"Considering the fact you can't farm around the tower," Balfour said, "it's going to interrupt your irrigation system, it's going to interrupt crop dusting and applying agricultural chemicals."

The BLM can't approve the building on lands not under their jurisdiction, but the BLM's decision approves and denies the construction of the transmission lines on their land in areas, and the denials mean the line will be constructed on mostly private lands.

While the farm owners can refuse to sell the 2,500-square-foot plot of land that will house the over 180 foot-tall tower, Balfour said eminent domain would then come in and take the land anyway.

"(Tuesday's) decision from the BLM does not do anything to authorize any activity on lands the BLM does not manage," Feeney said.

Balfour said that means individual counties have the say of where it goes on that private land.

"If those don't meet up, then there's going to have to be some negotiation and compromise," Balfour said. "There's going to have to be litigation to determine who's right."

Feeney said the BLM is well aware the decision would make someone unhappy, but she stated it tried its best to reach a happy medium.

"The split is about 44 percent on private land, 47 percent on BLM managed lands and about two percent is on national forest lands," she said. "So the split is pretty even over the length of the whole project."

Balfour said he will continue to work with as many agencies as necessary to keep the construction from happening on the farmlands. He said at least 75 farm owners will be affected in Power County, and suggested about double that many in Cassia County. He also said the BLM is looking to revise their sage grouse plan, and hopes that will leave wiggle room for those farmers he represents.

The Gateway West Project will likely begin construction in phases, starting in Glenrock, Wyo., in 2019 and finishing in Melba, Idaho, in 2023. 

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