Wildlife refuge land under consideration for planned utility power line

Report released on proposed intertie

Posted: Friday, October 05, 2001

The Draft Environmental Impact Statement has been released for the Southern Intertie Project.

The project would construct a high-voltage electrical transmission line between the Kenai Peninsula and Anchorage. The two routes under consideration run along the coast north of Nikiski or cross the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge in the Mystery Creek area.

The utility companies proposed putting the pipeline through the refuge adjacent to an existing Enstar gas pipeline in the refuge, but that route raised concerns about threats to habitat in the refuge. The Nikiski alternative, described as "environmentally preferred," would follow a Tesoro right of way along a corridor that was removed from the refuge in 1963 to allow for utility lines. It would cost about 10 percent more to construct.

"At this point in time, it appears as if the Tesoro route would be the least ecologically damaging," said Jim Hall, the assistant refuge manager. "But we have to go through the public comment period."

The purpose of the proposed transmission line is to increase the overall Railbelt electrical system reliability and transfer of energy capabilities between the Kenai Peninsula and Anchorage, according to the statement summary.

The existing system is deficient south of Anchorage, according to the utilities, and the 1992 Kenai Peninsula Borough Comprehen-sive Plan noted that transmission line upgrades would be needed to fully use power from Bradley Lake, the hydroelectric generation plant near Homer, it said.

The Rural Utilities Service of the U.S. Department of Agricul-ture is the lead agency working on the impact statements and publisher of the DEIS, but other agencies, including the Kenai refuge, were involved in drafting it. The refuge biologists contributed sections about environmental impacts on their lands.

"The refuge would be directly involved if the Enstar route is chosen," Hall explained.

The Enstar route would expand the current 50-foot-wide pipeline right of way to 250 feet and install above-ground transmission lines. The new, 138-kilovolt power line would run from the Soldotna Substation east along the Sterling Highway to the juncture with the Enstar pipeline, then north through the refuge to Burnt Island on the east side of Chickaloon Bay. Submarine cables would cross Turnagain Arm to Oceanview Park on the south end of Anchorage, whence underground and overhead lines would complete the route to the existing International Substation in Anchorage.

The Tesoro route alternative would run from the Bernice Lake Substation in Nikiski to Point Possession as an overhead line paralleling the North Road to Captain Cook State Recreation Area.

Using submarine cable it would cross Turnagain Arm at one of three sites, landing at Point Campbell. Underground cables along the Tesoro pipeline would take the line to the Point Woronzof Substation.

In the current DEIS, several options were eliminated from recommendation, including alternative energy sources such as battery storage, wind generation and fuel cells and upgrades of the existing intertie: the Quartz Creek transmission route.

"The primary concern regarding biological resources is the effects on special status plants and wildlife species, vegetation (loss of habitat) and wildlife," according to the summary.

"An area of special concern is the KNWR. Possible impacts could include collision hazards (birds), loss of habitat and increased human access. Any significant impact on the KNWR will be considered nationally significant."

The report also lists power lines' indirect effects on tourism by changing the natural view and difficulties in conducting controlled burns as other complications of the routes.

"The cumulative effects on wildlife, vegetation, recreation and visual resources within the KNWR along (the Enstar route) are considered to be long term and significant," it said.

Environmental groups have critiqued the project, particularly its potential role in fragmenting habitat for the peninsula's brown bear population if the Enstar route is chosen.

The proposed transmission line was listed by both the National Audubon Society and The Wilderness Society as one reason they include the Kenai refuge on their short list of threatened wildlife refuges in the nation.

Copies of the Draft Environ-mental Impact Statement will be available for review at the Kenai and Soldotna libraries and at the refuge headquarters.

Public meetings on the project are scheduled for Oct. 30 in Washington, D.C., Nov. 13 in An-chorage and Nov. 14 in Soldotna. The deadline for comment on the DEIS is Dec. 5.

The final environmental impact statement is due for completion in June 2002, and final selection of the route is expected to take place by November 2002.

The transmission line project is expected to cost about $100 million and take three years to construct. The first construction is tentatively scheduled for 2004.

The utilities in the project partnership are Golden Valley Electric Association, Matanuska Electric Association, Chugach Electric Association, Anchorage Munici-pal Light and Power, the Homer Electric Association and the city of Seward.

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