Seven-year-old Maizie Kostrubala, a Northern Santa Fe County resident, enjoys watching the sandhill cranes and other migratory birds that hang out on the farms and in the wetlands near her house.
Since learning about the Verde Transmission Project, she said she is worried the project will ruin the birds’ habitat and make the neighborhood a little less pleasant for her and her neighbors. Kostrubala isn’t the only one.
Kostrubala and her mother Mattie Allan were two of the approximately 100 people who gathered, Nov. 16, at Rio Arriba County’s Hernandez Community Center for a meeting to voice concern and listen to what the federal Bureau of Land Management and Dallas-based Hunt Power had to say about 33-mile 345 kV transmission line project.
The project, if it gains approval from the plethora of local, state and federal agencies, will connect a high-power voltage line between the Norton Substation in Santa Fe County, to the Ojo Substation in Rio Arriba County, northwest of Chamita, in Chili. The line will run parallel to a less powerful 115kV transmission line strung between the two substations.
Many, if not the majority of those in attendance, believe the project is another example of big business upsetting the lives of the majority, to benefit the few, according to Rio Arriba County property owner Joel Duran.
Duran, who owns property in both Hernandez and El Rancho, said while Pojoaque, Santa Clara and Ohkay Owingeh may benefit financially from the lease agreements they would sign with the company, he doesn’t see any benefits for the general public.
“In the past, when we deal with the pueblos, it is always, ‘What’s in it for us?’” Duran said. “After they get the transmission lines, we won’t get any benefit.”
Bureau of Land Management Taos Office Field Manager Sarah Slanger and Planning and Environment Coordinator Brad Higdon assured those in attendance, that the project is in its early stages and has several more steps before the application process is complete for the 33-mile Verde project.
The application process is a multi-step procedure meant to ensure any action the federal government takes complies with the National Environment Policy Act. In this instance, allowing Hunt Power to run the transmission lines across federal lands constitutes such an action.
The Act requires the Bureau to compile a report that will help federal regulators determine how well the project fits into existing communities.
“Any environmental actions the federal government takes, in this case, the rights of way for Verde, we are required to write a detailed impact statement to identify and assess the potential harmful consequences,” Higdon said.
Many of those in attendance expressed concerns ranging from how the project looks, to whether it poses a health and safety risk for those that live near it.
Higdon attempted to assure the attendees, that if the residents truly had something to worry about, it will arise via the impact statement.
He lauded the Act as a efficient mechanism for both addressing residents’ concerns and protecting the environment.
“It is all about making informed decisions with NEPA (National Environment Policy Act),” he said. “It is really a progressive law. It is progressive to the fact that it allows you all to participate.”
Most of those in attendance asked questions regarding the scope of the project. Some common questions were: “Why Northern New Mexico?” and “How will it benefit the residents?”
County resident Gail Hodyke wanted to know why the company couldn’t renovate or upgrade the existing structures.
Gabriela Canales, a spokeswoman for the power company, said they can’t modify those power lines because they belong to Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM).
If the project gains approval, PNM and its other wholesale customers would repay the estimated $60 to $80 million up-front cost Hunt will incur, building the project.
Canales said the project is needed because it would bring stability to the existing system and create economic development opportunities.
She said not only will the tribes earn money from the right-of-way agreements, the project will create temporary jobs. It could also create a stable revenue source if the transmission line is used to produce renewable energy.
“These funds would go to help develop their communities, like the Boys and Girls Club,” Canales said as she explained how the line would benefit the Native American communities. “They have senior centers that is (sic) used by the entire community.”
However, Pojoaque Pueblo’s Gabriel Montoya spoke at the meeting and insisted communities outside of the pueblo’s boundaries would also benefit.
Like Montoya, Santa Clara Pueblo Gov. Michael Chavarria attempted to assuage the crowd’s concerns by assuring them that everyone in the communities through which the transmission line passes, will have something to gain.
Rio Arriba County Commissioner Alex Naranjo asked Canales why company officials have not reached out to the County, for their input, especially since the project has been in the planning stages for the past six years.
Canales said her company didn’t reach out to the County until they were sure they would be able to secure the easements with the various pueblos.
The Bureau’s Verde Project Manager, Adrian Garcia, informed Naranjo that the County signed on as a participatory agency in April.
County Manager Tomas Campos acknowledges that former Planning and Zoning director Lucia Sanchez intended to participate, but after the document was signed, neither of them heard from the Bureau again until an Oct. 24 meeting at Northern New Mexico College.
“Just because we signed on as a participatory agency, doesn’t mean we participated,” Campos said.
Public comment will continue until the end of the 90-day scoping period, which started Oct. 6, with the Notice of Intent.
Public comments can be submitted to the Bureau of Land Management via the BLM project website at: http://www.blm.gov/nm/verde; via email at: BLM_NM_Verde@blm.gov; or by mail at the following address: Bureau of Land Management, Verde Transmission Line Project, P.O. Box 27115, Santa Fe, N.M., 87502-0115.
The Bureau will accept deliveries via courier/hand delivery to the Bureau of Land Management, Verde Transmission Line Project, 301 Dinosaur Trail, Santa Fe, N.M., 87508.
Contact Bureau Project Manager Adrian Garcia at 505-954-2199 to be added to the project mailing list, or for more information.