ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The Bureau of Land Management released a new environmental assessment on Nov. 25 that finds no new significant impacts from burying sections of the SunZia transmission line that run through the northern flank of White Sands Missile Range.
The agency will now accept public comments on its findings for 30 days to determine if a new supplemental environmental impact statement on the project is necessary, or if it can move forward with a final record of decision, said Dave Goodman, planning and environmental coordinator for the BLM’s New Mexico office.
“The environmental assessment we put out today evaluates the effects of burying portions of the transmission line,” Goodman told the Journal. “It compares the impacts of burials with the impacts from above-ground transmission lines, which was already addressed in the environmental impact statement released last year. The preliminary conclusion is a finding of no significant impact – none that would require us to do an additional environmental analysis, or supplemental environmental impact statement.”
The assessment was done in response to the Department of Defense decision last May to withdrew its objections to the SunZia project if parts of the transmission line were buried in White Sands’ “northern extension area” – a call-up zone where ranchers and other are often evacuated for missile tests and exercises. The military had objected to a 45-mile stretch of the line through that zone because of concerns it would interfere with military exercises there.
The objections led to nearly a year-long impasses on SunZia – a 550-mile project that would carry clean energy from Central New Mexico to Arizona for export to Western markets – after the BLM released its environmental impact statement in June 2013. The military’s objections prevented the BLM from moving forward with a final record of decision on the project.
If no significant concerns are raised through the 30-day comment period, the BLM could move forward on a SunZia decision in January.
“We won’t accept comments about other parts of the line in New Mexico or Arizona, only comments within the scope of this specific analysis,” Goodman said. “We’ll make any needed changes to the assessment after the 30-day period ends and move forward to finalize it, unless we find through the comment period that significant impacts do exist. If not, we’ll proceed with a record of decision on the project.”