Could high voltage transmission lines bring new trail to Minturn? | VailDaily.com

Could high voltage transmission lines bring new trail to Minturn?

MINTURN — Holy Cross Energy has plans to run high voltage transmission lines through town in an effort to connect a substation in Gilman directly to a substation in Avon.

The project would create a looped transmission system which could protect the valley against a catastrophic power outage. The peace of mind the transmission cables and towers would provide could be accompanied by a less-than pleasing aesthetic effect, though, as the 115kV transmission poles could be 40 feet high.

"It benefits everyone, because right now if Avon station goes down, then we all lose electricity," Hawkinson said. "But we've been wanting to connect the Eco trail from Dowd into Minturn, so if we can get them to bury it, then that's our trail."

ENSUING REGULATIONS

On Wednesday, Feb. 21, the town council began the process of passing an ordinance which could provide protections to land within the town, and held a public hearing on the issue.

"About 40 years ago our state legislature enacted legislation that allows local communities to adopt special land-use regulations," town attorney Mike Sawyer told the council. "The idea is to empower local communities to protect themselves from the impacts of larger regional or statewide land use actions that may have a disproportionate impact on the local community."

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Sawyer said the regulations attempt to prevent the degradation of scenic resources, harm to the economy, the degradation property values, any increase in proximity of residents to health and safety hazards, and ensures that growth that could occur through utility extensions mitigates impact to the town's infrastructure and services, and ensures that there is an opportunity to mitigate harm to wildlife and fisheries.

"An activity of state interest that can be regulated is, in fact, site selection and construction of major facilities of a public utility," Sawyer said.

A formal ordinance on the regulations is expected to be brought before town in the coming weeks.

Regulations or not, if the utility isn't able to put the towers in town, then they could go to nearby Forest Service land which would be even more visible, Hawkinson said.

"Then everyone hiking Meadow Mountain would see them," she said.

WORKING TOGETHER

In August, Holy Cross submitted an application to the Forest Service to site the transmission line near the railroad track through town.

Hawkinson said after seeing the application, she talked to Holy Cross to see if they would be agreeable to something different.

"They're working with the town," she said. "We're trying to figure out a route."

The project submitted to the Forest Service has not yet reached the level of a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) study. The study is expected to begin in the late spring or early summer, according to Holy Cross Energy. A committee is currently being formed with citizens, members of the council and planning commission, a representative from Battle Mountain Development Co., and a representative from Holy Cross Energy, to see if something different can be worked out. NEPA studies can take years to be first accepted, then reviewed and completed.

The committee will have public meetings, with a stated goal of trying to find a route that everyone agrees on, preferably one that buries the cable and forms a trail on top of it, Hawkinson said.

"We want to work together to come up with a plan," she said. "Because this project will be here before you know it."

This story was edited to remove a misleading graphic that had not been cropped properly. To see the correct graphic, see page A4 of the Feb. 26 Vail Daily newspaper or view it online here.