Proposed Transmission Line Threatens San Pedro Valley
UPDATE, JULY 2013:
The U. S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released the Sunzia Southwest Transmission Line Project Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in June 2013. The BLM proposes to select the preferred alternative presented in the Draft EIS, with some minor route modifications. The preferred alternative proposes a corridor for two 500kV power lines through the lower San Pedro River valley, which has no such corridors at present.
With the publication of the Final EIS, the project enters into a formal Protest period. Archaeology Southwest has submitted a protest letter raising concern about the Section 106 consultation process. A number of environmental organizations have also submitted a protest letter, based on numerous issues related to the process and to documents prepared by the BLM and their consultant, Environmental Planning Group. The BLM intends to resolve the protests by mid-August and issue a Record of Decision in mid-September 2013. If the BLM’s response to comments in the Draft EIS were any indication, then protestants can expect to have their concerns rejected. This, in turn, would require protestants to consider litigation as the only remaining avenue to hold BLM accountable.
The BLM is also in the process of finalizing a Programmatic Agreement to manage the unresolved adverse effects of transmission line construction and long-term operations and maintenance activities. Archaeology Southwest has been an active participant in the drafting of the Programmatic Agreement, and we will likely sign the Agreement as a concurring party. This needs to be executed by all parties before the Record of Decision is issued by the BLM.
History of Archaeology Southwest’s involvement (2012):
On behalf of Archaeology Southwest, Southwest Field Representative Andy Laurenzi attended an Arizona-New Mexico Consulting Parties meeting convened by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to discuss the SunZia Southwest Transmission Project. Numerous agency personnel from Arizona and New Mexico and several tribal representatives attended.
The SunZia project proposes to develop a new transmission corridor that could include two 500kV transmission lines extending from near Roswell, New Mexico, to the Pinal Substation in central Arizona. Originally described as a renewable energy project designed to bring wind-generated electricity from the Roswell area to markets in Arizona and southern California, the project is now subject to intense criticism regarding its actual purpose. Tim Vanderpool recently reported on the controversy in the Tucson Weekly. A guest column by San Pedro valley resident Lisa Vogel in the Arizona Daily Star described likely detrimental impacts to the valley. The community of Cascabel in the middle San Pedro River valley is a forceful advocate against the proposed transmission line. Acting as a central clearinghouse on the project, the Cascabel Working Group shares the latest SunZia news and updates.
The consulting party meeting occurred in response to frequent comments by Archaeology Southwest and the National Trust for Historic Preservation encouraging the BLM to initiate the Section 106 consulting process. Although the project was proposed in 2009, the first meeting with all consulting parties occurred only last week, three years later. Unfortunately, BLM has decided that consultation will occur only with respect to the development of a programmatic agreement.
The BLM’s narrow interpretation of its compliance responsibilities is a missed opportunity to provide more substantive information that could assist with the development of alignment alternatives and final alignment locations. During the meeting, Nancy Brown of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation raised concerns regarding BLM’s legal liability, given their narrow perspective on consultation requirements.