Meeting landowners’ concerns critical to successful transmission projects

The Nucla-Sunshine line traverses some of the most spectacular scenery in the West. These peaks are actually the inspiration for the Coors beer can artwork.

Tri-State’s Joe Gallik, senior permitting & land rights specialist, will be the first to tell you that the path to popularity is probably not being the guy who has to tell a landowner that you are going to route a transmission line across his or her private property.

“Some of them would prefer that we just go away, but that isn’t going to happen,” he said. “Our job is to secure from the affected landowners the necessary right-of-way easements for the transmission line and access roads to allow us to construct and maintain a critical transmission line – in this instance the Nucla to Sunshine transmission project in southwestern Colorado.”

While all transmission projects are unique, it is probably safe to say that the 58-mile, 115-kV Nucla-Sunshine line, now in its third and final year of construction, has been among Tri-State’s most challenging – having stalled for more than a decade between initial planning and construction start-up in 2010. It is also the association’s first major transmission line to incorporate a segment of underground cabling (10 miles) to satisfy local landowner concerns.

When it was all said and done, there are 103 landowners that Gallik and others at Tri-State have worked with to secure 160 easement agreements for the Nucla-Sunshine line. That doesn’t include securing the necessary permits for federal lands on which a substantial portion of this line is routed.

Before a landowner signs off on an easement agreement and Tri-State writes them a one-time check for access to their land, there is considerable research and work to be done. Legal and land groups are involved in this research. Background checks through county records are conducted to establish ownership and verify that the land title is free and clear of any potential problems, which can become a complicated process, with a wide range of issues often surfacing. Tri-State’s survey group also devotes a lot of time and effort in legally describing the land where the easement will be located.

Some of the affected landowners, particularly those in San Miguel County, own high dollar resort homes near the path of the new line.

When it comes to compensation, Tri-State looks at the latest market value studies to establish a fair payment to the landowners. “We have an ethical obligation to be fair to each landowner and we always take the time to listen to their concerns – before, during construction and after the project is completed,” Gallik explained. “We also work with landowners to compensate them for any damage to their property that may have occurred during construction.”

In terms of actual land required for this project, the numbers are impressive. Total acreage of the line easements for the overhead and underground path, coupled with parcels for new and enlarged substations, totaled 271 acres. Access road easements added up to 142 acres and federal land acquired from the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management was an additional 80 acres.

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