The Bureau of Land Management and Western Area Power Administration have announced the release of the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Southline Transmission Line Project, a 360-mile electric transmission line proposed to run from New Mexico to Arizona.
The Final EIS is the result of a major collaborative project that involved multiple state, local and federal cooperating agencies from Arizona and New Mexico, and the public. Of particular note is an agreement that provides the Arizona Game and Fish Department with upgraded habitat for a wide variety of wildlife and in particular the sandhill cranes near the Willcox Playa in southern Arizona.
“BLM appreciates our partnership with Western Area Power Administration in working with local, state and other federal agencies as well as the public in development of the final environmental impact statement,” said Bill Childress, District Manager for BLM Las Cruces, N.M.
As a result of that agreement, a proposed route for the transmission line that would have negatively affected the wine grape industry near Willcox was avoided. In addition, another alternate route that potentially would have affected Department of Defense operations in the Willcox Playa was avoided.
“This is an example of how all the involved entities entered into a collaborative effort to find solutions to an issue that affected local industry, national defense, and wildlife habitat. By working together, all of the interests were able to meet and resolve conflicts and in the end, there is an amazing benefit to many wildlife species and to the public that enjoys them,” said Jim deVos, Assistant Director of Wildlife Management, Arizona Game and Fish.
“This joint effort with BLM and cooperating agencies is a testament to our great federal partnership,” said Western Administrator and CEO Mark Gabriel. “It is vital for communities, residents and businesses in Arizona, California and New Mexico to have reliable, resilient power and protection for our nation’s natural resources. This final environmental impact statement provides the groundwork for how to do both.”
The Southline Transmission Line, as proposed, would involve 240 miles of new double-circuit 345-kilovolt line running from south of Las Cruces, N.M., to south of Willcox, Ariz. An additional 120 miles of double-circuit 230-kV upgraded line (upgrading an existing 115-kV line) would be built between Willcox and a substation northwest of Tucson, Ariz. The line would cross federal lands managed by the BLM and other agencies. It also would cross state and private lands.
The agencies’ preferred alternative identified in the Final EIS was selected after close consultation with the Department of Defense, Arizona Game and Fish Department and other cooperating agencies, and the public. It maximizes use of existing rights-of-way and consolidation with existing linear development, and minimizes impacts to the environment and area stakeholders.
The Final EIS includes the following changes to the agencies’ preferred alternative previously identified in the April 2014 Draft EIS:
· The route around Lordsburg Playa in New Mexico now more closely follows existing infrastructure;
· The route through the Willcox Playa in Arizona remains the same, but additional mitigation measures are established for sensitive migratory bird resources;
· The route near Tucson was moved to avoid residential and economic developments.
BLM New Mexico and Western are co-leads in preparing the EIS. Western is part of the Department of Energy and is also providing development assistance for the proposed project with Southline Transmission, LLC.
The official publication of the notice of availability of the Final EIS in the Federal Register begins a 30-day administrative period after which the BLM and Western will issue a Record of Decision. The agencies’ preferred alternative does not require amendments to BLM resource management plans in either New Mexico or Arizona.
The Final EIS and maps showing the proposed routes can be viewed at www.blm.gov/nm/southline.