The Alamogordo Daily News reports ( http://bit.ly/1c2UW5C) that the Department of Defense and others are concerned the route preferred by the company proposing the project and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management could threaten the training mission at White Sands Missile Range. The critics instead favor a more northerly route around the missile range.
The Bureau of Land Management is to decide in September whether to approve the SunZia Southwest Transmission Project's application for right of way on federal lands and other amendments for property use. Under the final environmental impact statement, SunZia's high-voltage transmission system would start in Lincoln County, N.M., and traverse much of the state. The project would cover 515 miles in all, ending in Pinal County in southeastern Arizona.
In Arizona, conservation groups have challenged SunZia's jobs forecast and whether the transmission lines would cause environmental harm to the San Pedro River Valley. But the greater storm is in New Mexico, where military and political opposition continues against SunZia's preferred route.
U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, the Department of Defense and the Greater El Paso Chamber of Commerce are among those against the preferred route. Pearce said SunZia's route could undermine training missions at White Sands and leave the installation vulnerable to cutbacks during a time when the federal government is under pressure to reduce costs and perhaps military bases.
BLM also selected a "preferred alternative" that includes a modification to the route near White Sands. It is 30 miles north of the missile range and does not cross any of the White Sands' 2.2 million acres of federal property.
But Tom Wray, the SunZia project manager, said any alternate route is death for the power project at this stage. Another path for transmission lines and substations would necessitate another environmental impact study that would take years to complete. Wray said such a delay would kill the project for financial reasons.
Just as important, he said, SunZia's route would not harm White Sands or any other military installation.
With jobs to be gained in parts of New Mexico eager for fresh opportunities, SunZia has plenty of supporters, including Luna, Hidalgo, Grant, Sierra, Torrance and Lincoln counties and the city of Deming, all of which stand to gain economically from construction of power lines and renewable energy projects.
The Department of Defense said the SunZia line, some 45 miles over the missile range's Northern Extension, could interfere with missions and low-flying military aircraft.
U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, a Democrat from Albuquerque, said he had no such concerns about the transmission project hurting military operations, now or in the future.
To help allay others' fears, Heinrich, New Mexico's other Democratic senator, Tom Udall, and Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn have introduced a bill to add buffer zones around White Sands and Fort Bliss, further insulating their missions.
Any disputes over the route can be worked out with compromise, he said.
Information from: Alamogordo Daily News, http://www.alamogordonews.com