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U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service accepting new comments on Sand Hills transmission line

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is giving another opportunity to people interested in weighing in on a transmission line that would traverse portions of the Sand Hills.

The Nebraska Public Power District’s proposed 225-mile R-Project would begin at its Gerald Gentleman coal plant near Sutherland in Lincoln County and travel north and east to Holt County.

The Columbus-based electric utility has said once it is in service, the 345-kilovolt transmission line will improve reliability on 
NPPD’s transmission system, relieve congestion on existing transmission lines and open up renewable energy development in one of the most wind-rich parts of the state.

The proposed line hasn’t been without controversy: Opponents’ concerns include the destruction of wildlife habitat for species including the American burying beetle, which is federally endangered and is widely found throughout the route.

Construction of the line would destroy 33 acres of the beetle’s habitat and “temporarily disturb an additional 1,250 acres” over 50 years. NPPD has applied for a permit from Fish & Wildlife that would allow it to mitigate damage to the beetle’s habitat over that period, in part by securing “at least 500 acres of occupied American burying beetle habitat in perpetuity,” according to a federal notice.

That permit is the focus of the reopened comment period.

Other concerns look beyond the project’s completion, when it is expected that wind energy developers will seek to erect wind turbines near the line in the environmentally sensitive Sand Hills region.

The federal agency will accept new comments through Nov. 7.

Comments for the permit, which is included under docket No. FWS-R6-ES-2014-0048, can be submitted electronically at http://regulations.gov or by delivery to the Fish & Wildlife Service office at 9325 S. Alda Road, Wood River, NE 68883.