07 November 2014

State Game Agency and R-Project Review

This email was received 4 November from the Nebraska Game and Parks in response to an inquiry on the r-project.

"Thank you for your email inquiry below dated Monday, October 27, 2014. Each year, we review over 1,000 different projects following a similar review process for each one. We are considering conducting a public webinar in order to give citizens a better understanding of how we conduct environmental reviews. However, we do not plan on using a hearing on any particular issue to explain this process. Individuals are welcome to contact us regarding our involvement in a given project, and we are certainly willing to explain what our role has been.

"For the R-Project, staff of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission (NGPC) have been involved in more than 15 meetings, conference calls and site visits with the Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and other project specialists to discuss the project’s potential impacts on endangered and threatened species and other species of concern. NPPD presented the “Project Area” to NGPC and USFWS staff for the first time on December 12, 2012 and requested input. At this initial meeting, an inquiry was made regarding the location of the transmission line through the Sandhills, and we asked if they could consider a completely different “Project Area” that wouldn’t go through the Sandhills. We pointed out some different ideas and suggestions on a map. NPPD’s response was that they were following the directive from the Southwest Power Pool (SPP) to build a line that generally went from the Gerald Gentleman Station (GGS), to a substation near or in Cherry County, and then east to tie into Western Area Power Association’s Ft. Thompson to Grand Island line in the general Holt/Antelope/Wheeler County area. We do not have an opportunity to partake in the SPP’s decision-making process regarding the general location of transmission lines designed to meet regional needs, such as the R-Project.

"After the initial meeting, NGPC and USFWS staff had an opportunity to review the “Project Area” in more detail, and determined there were specific areas of concern pertaining to wildlife. This information was provided to NPPD during two separate meetings in 2013. NPPD took this information into consideration, along with all their other routing criteria, as they narrowed the “Project Area” down to “Project Corridors.” As we recommended, the “Project Corridors” were sited away from some of the densest populations of American burying beetles, and away from some of the larger wetland clusters. We also advised that areas of highest bird use around Birdwood Creek be avoided, but this was not entirely possible. Given the general location of the project and the other criteria NPPD must consider, all sensitive wildlife areas and natural habitats cannot be avoided. Additional meetings were held prior to NPPD’s selection of the preferred and alternative routes.

"As previously mentioned, NGPC staff expressed concern regarding this project’s placement through the Sandhills. However, we do not have regulatory authority when it comes to protecting the Sandhills. Consequently, there is not a mechanism for us to prevent the project from going through this landscape. As we do with all projects, we recommend constructing along existing corridors or in areas with existing disturbance. We have worked with NPPD to develop measures to avoid and minimize impacts to listed species to the extent possible. Mitigation for all unavoidable impacts on endangered and threatened species will be required and will result in a net benefit for the affected species.

"As required by statute, the Nebraska Power Review Board consulted with us on this project pursuant to Neb. Rev. Stat §37-807(3) of the Nongame and Endangered Species Conservation Act. An environmental review letter was issued on September 11, 2014, and a minor correction to the letter was issued on September 22, 2014.