ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The SunZia Southwest Transmission Project has become a lightning rod for wildlife groups who fear the line’s proposed river crossing could be a death trap for migratory birds.
Under current plans, a small stretch of the 520-mile project would cross the Rio Grande near Escondido, just north of Socorro, something the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service already signed off on. But some environmentalists say the proposed siting would place high-voltage power lines and towers smack in between three wildlife refuges that together provide a seasonal roosting-and-foraging bridge for continental avian migration.
“All these migratory birds winter here because it’s some of the last wetlands left in New Mexico,” said Cecilia Rosacker, executive director of the Rio Grande Agricultural Land Trust. “It’s a critical passage for migrating birds to get to Mexico.”
As now proposed, the power lines would run through one of the narrowest passages between the Ladd S. Gordon Waterfowl Management and Sevilleta National Wildlife Refuge areas to the north, and the Bosque del Apache to the south. The lines would cross between two sandbars that provide historic roosts for migrating cranes.
“If you want to maximize bird kill, that’s the place to put them,” Rosacker said.
The SunZia project aims to carry wind-generated electricity from central New Mexico to western markets. It’s currently under review at the state Public Regulation Commission, where wildlife groups presented their concerns during a week of hearings in June.
But SunZia is already approved by the BLM and Arizona regulators. New Mexico State Land Office permits are also expected later this year.