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Public comment sought on NPPD's revised habitat conservation plan for R-Project

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NPPD awards contract for R-Project

This graphic shows the proposed route for Nebraska Public Power District’s R-Project.

The public can weigh in on the Nebraska Public Power District’s renewed bid for an incidental take permit application in connection with the proposed R-Project transmission line.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Thursday the plans for a 30-day public comment period beginning Friday through 10:59 p.m. CST Dec. 18. The service will take the comments into consideration for its supplemental environmental impact statement in response to NPPD’s permit application.

NPPD is preparing a revised habitat conservation plan in support of the anticipated application for an incidental take permit under the Endangered Species Act to address potential threats to the American burying beetle and other federally protected wildlife from the construction and operation of the new transmission line in central Nebraska.

Public comments can be made online or through the mail. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will also host two virtual public meetings at 10 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. CST Dec. 8. The meetings will be available at fws.gov/project/r-project-transmission-line and at public libraries in North Platte, Thedford and Taylor.

The proposed R-Project is a 226-mile-long, 345-kilovolt transmission line that would cross portions of the Sandhills in north-central Nebraska. The proposed line would start at NPPD’s Gerald Gentleman Substation near Sutherland and go north to a substation in Thomas County near Thedford.

From there, the line would extend eastward to another substation in Holt County. There it would connect to the Western Area Power Administration’s existing Fort Thompson-to-Grand Island line on the eastern border of Holt County.

NPPD has been working on the revised conservation plan to incorporate new information obtained in the roughly two years since a Colorado federal judge vacated a 2019 Fish and Wildlife Service environmental permit for the R-Project.

The plan also includes continued evaluation of the risk of whooping cranes colliding with R-Project lines over the 50-year life of the project, as well as potential impacts on cultural and historic resources.

The judge said in his opinion that Fish and Wildlife’s order granting the permit didn’t review possible routes to avoid O’Fallon’s Bluff, despite saying in its final environmental impact statement that running electrical lines over it would have “a long-term, high-intensity indirect (visual, auditory and atmospheric) effect.”

Thousands of wagons on the Oregon-California Trail crossed the bluff from 1843 to 1866, cutting deep dips that remain today. It parallels Interstate 80 to the south between Sutherland and Hershey.

NPPD says the R-Project is needed to enhance the reliability of the electric transmission system, relieve congestion from existing lines and provide opportunities to develop renewable energy projects in Nebraska, including wind power.

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