Infrastructure project open for comments

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New Mexico and Arizona are one step closer to a massive increase in the transmission of electricity.

The Bureau of Land Management continues working through procedure on the SunZia Southwest Transmission Project, which consists of two 500 kilovolt power lines that will extend from Lincoln County all the way to Pinal County in Arizona.

Until Aug. 22, the BLM is accepting written public comments on the draft of the Environmental Impact Statement that it has assembled for this project.

SunZia Transmission, LLC — the company that proposed the project — plans to construct two transmission lines designed to carry a massive electrical voltage between power substations. One will carry AC, but the other could carry AC or DC, depending on the needs of the serviced communities. These lines would be the only 500 kV transmission lines in southern New Mexico.

Though this project is for the transmission of electricity, not power generation, the new infrastructure will open up opportunities for new sources of power in the area surrounding the lines.

Adrian Garcia, of the Santa Fe BLM office, said that this corridor has particularly good potential for solar- and wind-based power.

Currently, the BLM has prepared several possible routes for the lines, which will cross between 460 and 530 miles of terrain. The lines begin at the proposed SunZia East substation in northwestern Lincoln County, just south of Corona, N.M. The BLM has proposed six possible sub-routes between the SunZia East substation and the proposed midpoint substation northeast of Deming in Luna County; all six routes pass through Socorro County.

Within the county, the BLM found three major planning concerns: avoiding the Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument, avoiding federal land north of White Sands Missile Range and reducing the effects on birds migrating out of the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Reserve.

According to the BLM’s presentation on Wednesday, June 27, in order to avoid a White Sands-related facility north of Highway 380, the BLM’s preferred route goes north from the SunZia station and passes near the Socorro/Torrance County line, which brings it near the Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument. Again, the BLM’s preferred solution here is to go north, passing just over four miles from the site itself before crossing back into Socorro County.

As it passes west, the line must cross the Rio Grande, either south of the Sevilleta National Wildlife Reserve near Escondida or just north of San Antonio; the BLM prefers that the line pass further north.

According to BLM Biologist Danny Apachito, the Rio Grande corridor just north of Bosque del Apache, is a major crossing for migratory birds, and no matter what happens, migration patterns will be altered.

In particular, the Bosque del Apache and surrounding area is a critical environment for the endangered Southwest willow flycatcher, and it is home to the highest population in the region.

“Repair will be invasive,” said Apachito, adding that it would generally alter life for local species. Reducing these environmental effects was a major part of why the BLM preferred to have the lines cross the Rio Grande further north of the Bosque del Apache — several miles north, the lines would have a diminished effect on the birds and other local life.

These were not the only concerns that were faced when the BLM was planning its routes through Socorro County. Socorro BLM Field Manager Danita Burns said the BLM had to consider reducing impact on back-country areas, such as the Quebradas, the historic Camino Real and avoiding ranch lands, as well as the 13 wilderness study areas in the county.

Burns also said they had to consider cultural issues, such as historic and prehistoric resources and sites, as well as Native American and pre-Native artifacts.

Originally, there was a route discussed that would have avoided Socorro County altogether by passing east of White Sands Missile Range, past Carrizozo and Alamogordo and eventually coming west somewhere south of Las Cruces. However, it was deemed impractical much earlier in the planning process.

In compliance with regulations, the full draft EIS is online at www.blm.gov/nm/sunzia.

After the EIS is finalized, there will be a 30-day public protest period for the final design.

To submit a comment, fill out a public comment form from the BLM website, and email it to NMSunZiaProject@blm.gov, or mail it to Bureau of Land Management SunZia Southwest Transmission Project, P.O. Box 27115, Santa Fe, N.M. 87508-0115.