26 June 2018

Ranch Land Facing Threat of Eminent Domain

June 21, 2018. Ranch land facing threat of eminent domain. Grant County News 133(47): 1, 3.

Ranchland heritage established by Dan and Barbara Welch is facing the threat of eminent domain that would impose an industrial powerline on their place south of Thedford.

The Federal Aviation Administration has issued multiple documents, each of them titled as a “determination of no hazard to air navigation” for a transmission line, which is basically for 35 industrial powerline towers – built 1350 feet apart – associated with the Nebraska Public Power District r-project. The powerline constructs would transit the Brush Creek Ranch and other private property south and southeast of Thedford.

One of the approved towers, more than 132 feet in height, would be placed on the southern edge of the Brush Creek Ranch, and adjacent to highway 83. The proposed powerline would continue a short distance to the north, then go easterly, and then again northward as the final tower having been considered by the FAA would be adjacent to the Middle Loup River, just south of what would be an expanded power substation east of Thedford, along Highway 2.

The towers needed for the 345-kV industrial powerline at the designated locations would vary in height from 62 feet to 140 feet, with 29 more than a hundred feet in height. Work is scheduled to be completed from January 2019 to December 2020. The “determination” would expire if construction had not been started by December 4, 2019. There would be no requirements for marking or lighting, according to the FAA documents. Maps indicating the specific placement of each tower are provided at the agency website.

The type of tower is not indicated by the FAA summary page. There would apparently be several monopole towers along a short distance of Highway 83 and then steel-lattice towers on rangeland of the Brush Creek Ranch, according to environmental review documentation.

NPPD would have to also use eminent domain to place monopoles on nearby property owned by Brent Steffen, just south of the Brush Creek Ranch, and along Highway 83. Both Welch – who has undertaken legal action to prevent NPPD from accessing his property – and Steffen – who has written several letters to editors in different newspapers – have been very consistent and vocal opponents to the r-project. Neither of them have signed an easement agreement to allow powerline construction on their personally owned private property. Thus eminent domain procedures by NPPD would be required for construction to occur in Thomas county and notably elsewhere along the proposed 225 mile powerline corridor where every request by the power company for many easements have been unacceptable to multiple property owners.

Vehicular access would be necessary along the entire length of the transmission line and would continue to be needed for years for ongoing maintenance requirements.

Construction through the middle of the Welch Ranch would involve placement of monopoles using huge cranes and seemingly be done because of readily available access along Highway 83? Then lattice towers, would apparently be placed using a helicopter, according to r-project documents; associated ground crews would drive vehicles across the hills. A very local staging area where lattice tower pieces would be put together and flight landings would be required, according to details provided by NPPD in federal project application documents. There is a dearth of details on “staging areas” where towers would be built or helicopters would land, specifically for the south Thedford area. There also may be the need for a “pull-site” on the Welch Ranch, since the proposed line makes a change from north-south to east-west alignment near the southern most towers as approved by the FAA.

There was no opportunity for public comment on the FAA applications, which for the initial filings did not provide any “sponsor information” and for which details were only indicated once final determination was made, based upon a comparison of online documentation on different dates in late May and early June.

Any other applications for FAA consideration of transmission line placements for the r-project were not found at the agency website as of the first week of June. Each powerline tower needs a distinct “determination of no hazard” finding.

The r-project is still currently being evaluated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which has thus-far issued no environmental permits necessary for construction to be started. There has been no time indicated when the findings of this agency will be available for public consideration.

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