The Nebraska Power Review Board ruled Friday that a group of ranchers and business owners in the Sandhills, who oppose a proposed 220-mile transmission line on or near their land, have a right to be part of a hearing on the project.
The Nebraska Public Power District, represented by Lincoln attorney Kile Johnson, objected to their participation, saying they do not meet the statutory requirements.
“Only power suppliers should be intervenors,” Johnson said.
The five-member board is reviewing the merits of the $361 million transmission line project and has the authority to approve or deny the construction of new power plants and transmission lines in Nebraska.
Barry Geweke, an Ord attorney who represents 10 ranchers and business owners who would be affected by the line, argued that state law provides for any interested parties, especially those who live in the affected area, to be part of such proceedings.
Robert Price, a Burwell rancher and one of his clients, said the transmission line would “devalue” everyone’s property.
“It’s going to be a huge loss for an area that should be protected,” he told the board.
Another client, Sarah Sortum, said the line will ruin her ecotourism business, Sandhills Safari Tours, in northeast Loup County. She said clients come to enjoy the natural surroundings and wildlife of the area and will not come if they see transmission lines strung on the horizon.
“It’s really one of the few chances clients have to get out on the Sandhills but also private ranch land,” Sortum said.
She said the money she earns from her ecotourism business, which she operates on her family’s ranch, buys groceries for the year.
“I believe I have a direct interest. I think it will not only impact my life but my family’s life,” Sortum told the board.
Her brother, Adam Switzer, said his guide business, Calamus Outfitters, will suffer, too. He believes the lines and tower structures will adversely impact the “booming” grounds of prairie chickens and grouse on the ranch, as well as turkey and deer hunting.
After deliberating for about an hour, the board decided to give standing to the 10 landowners and business owners but not to Dave Hutchinson, who operates an organic ranch near Rose.
Nevertheless, Hutchinson urged NPPD to use existing corridors for its proposed transmission line, “so we don’t add to the ugliness that we already have.”
Executive Director Tim Texel, speaking for the board, said Hutchinson did not own land along the preferred or alternative power line routes identified by the Columbus-based utility.
NPPD wants to build the 345,000-volt transmission line in Antelope, Blaine, Garfield, Holt, Lincoln, Logan, Loup, McPherson, Rock, Thomas and Wheeler counties. An existing substation would be upgraded near Thedford and a new substation would be built in eastern Wheeler County as part of the project.
The utility says it needs the line to enhance the reliability of its transmission system, relieve congestion from existing lines and provide additional opportunities for development of renewable energy projects like wind farms.
NPPD has consulted with experts to address environmental, wildlife, veterinary and human health issues during the siting process, utility spokesperson Mark Becker said earlier this year.
No final route has been selected. NPPD plans to hold eight public meetings in November to gather more comments on its preferred and alternative routes. The line is scheduled to be completed in 2018.
Geweke, attorney for the landowners, sought at least a 60-day continuance of the hearing to give him and his clients more time to prepare, but the attorney for NPPD objected. He urged the board to expedite the process and continue the hearing for one month.
Said Johnson: “This is not a regulatory court proceeding that lingers on. It needs to be dealt with in the public interest.”
Texel continued the hearing until Oct. 10.
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding