The WAPA Plan
The Western Area Power Authority (WAPA), which is a branch of the Department of Energy, has recently put forward a plan to combine two existing, aging transmission lines into a single line with twice as many wires and 105 foot tall steel poles. The problem with this plan is not with rebuilding aging infrastructure (a good thing), but rather with the height and proposed siting of the towers, which would have serious adverse consequences on the viewscape in the Estes Valley. How may times have you looked at the awful erector set across Lake Estes, shuddered, and wondered what happened in 1938, that people allowed that to happen? Why didn’t they get more involved? Well, our grandchildren may be wondering the same about us, if we do not work to get the current plan modified. The plan would extend the towers from the eastern edge of Lake Estes up the side of Highway 36 until the Pole Hill Road turn off across from Hermit Park. This will be the first thing that people see as they enter the Estes Valley, and the sight of industrial power lines will be with them all the way into town.
Another route is available, the Estes-Flatiron Tap, which runs through the northern portion of Crocker Ranch, in a designated utility corridor which contains one of the existing transmission lines as well as an adjacent natural gas pipeline. This route has the advantage of being 15% shorter (cheaper to build and maintain), as well as being significantly less detrimental to the viewscape.
In the initial proposal, this route was not even listed as an option; the only listed alternative was a ‘do nothing’ plan which is not likely to occur. Indeed, nowhere in WAPA’s public documentation regarding this project do they make mention of the utility corridor – a rather glaring omission considering that a utility corridor is a de facto preferred route for utilities such as transmission lines. Their publicly stated reasons are that they would need to acquire additional right-of-way (ROW) along that route, as well as a belief that access roads are significantly better along their proposed route. Some simple analysis casts doubt on these claims. For example, their proposed route also requires obtaining ROW: 17.9 acres of prime, developable land with significant fair market value. In contrast, the Estes-Flatiron route requires slightly more land (23.7 acres), but it should cost significantly less since it is undevelopable land which is heavily encumbered by being located within a utility corridor. Similar analysis regarding access roads shows both routes to be somewhat comparable. Indeed, through the utility corridor, there is strong opportunity for cost-sharing with the gas company, since both they and WAPA require access along this route. One cannot help but feel that there are other, unstated reasons behind this choice of routing.
Nevertheless, this proposal presents a significant opportunity for those in the Estes Valley to renegotiate the deal we got in 1938. We should extend the scope of the project to include burying the one mile of lines across Lake Estes, as well as an additional mile along the Estes-Flatiron route, which would carry one past Park Hill subdivision and well into Crocker Ranch. This would eliminate the remaining objectional viewscape impairment from these lines. Certainly burying power lines is expensive, with a figure of $1 million per mile often mentioned, but when one considers that these lines are likely to be around for 100 years, it seems like a small price to pay. For more information, and to send comments to both WAPA and our congressional representatives, please go to the website at www.responsiblelines.org.
Estes Park, CO