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Senator Tom Brewer
I recently learned that NPPD has retained outside legal counsel in Denver and Washington, D.C., for the purpose of “Government Services” – also known as a lobbyist. The aim of this lobbyist is to try to influence the USFWS Office in Denver to ensure a favorable outcome for the Environmental Impact Study (EIS) to NPPD’s R-Project. I have very serious concerns about this. I want to make sure there isn’t any undue influence being applied to the US Fish and Wildlife Service by a public utility that is owned by the citizens of Nebraska. Those citizens, many of whom I represent, do not want their public utility doing this.
Last week, I mailed a letter to the Regional Director of the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in Denver with copies to Governor Ricketts, Senator Deb Fischer, Senator Ben Sasse Congressman Adrian Smith and the Director of the USFWS. The Denver office has supervisory authority over the USFWS office in Nebraska that is preparing the EIS for Nebraska Public Power District’s (NPPD) R-Project. This is the 225-mile high-voltage power-line that is about to tear through the heart of the Nebraska Sandhills. It is going to do irreparable harm to a treasure unique to the world so a handful of people can make money off of a terribly flawed government program. I have written about this many times.
The portion of the EIS that concerns me deals with threatened and endangered species. The data NPPD used to address the threat the powerline poses to severely endangered Whooping Cranes was very old and limited. Studies based on this old data estimated a mortality of only 0.022 Whooping Crane deaths by wire strikes over the entire 50 year life of the R-Project. Consequently NPPD wasn’t required to apply for an Incidental Take Permit (ITP) for the Whooping Crane because the “take” was less than one bird a year.
Recently, a new study from 2015 was submitted to the USFWS during a public comment period. This study was based on telemetry data collected from individual birds that had been tagged with GPS trackers. Compared to the old data currently used in the EIS, this data set is very large and very detailed. In looking this over myself, I’m certain far better conclusions could be drawn from this new data set. I believe if proper analysis is done on this data, it is likely to demonstrate that far more than 0.022 Whooping Cranes will be killed by the R-Project. Going back and re-opening this part of the process so analysis of this new data can be done would further delay the project, something I know NPPD is opposed to. Nonetheless, the right thing to do is make sure the decisions that are ultimately made about the endangered Whooping Crane are supported by the best available information.
Only one wild migrating flock of the endangered Whooping Cranes is left. About 430 birds fly to Canada each year directly through the route of the R-Project. When you look at the map that plots all the GPS coordinates recorded from migrating Whopping Cranes, the route of the powerline is covered with dots. The #1 leading cause of death in migrating birds is collisions with power lines. It is important to consider the combined impact of the R-Project along with the 5 planned wind energy projects (that we are aware of). If the Whooping Cranes somehow survive the R-Project, they still have to navigate the danger posed by the industrial wind turbines the R-Project is being built for.
The fact NPPD (owned by the citizens of Nebraska) has spent rate-payer dollars to employ a “government services” attorney (who function as a lobbyist) to try and grease the skids with the US Fish and Wildlife Service so they can turn a blind eye to this new data is wrong. NPPD can re-route this power-line project, and avoid this, and many other serious problems the current route poses. Sadly, they stubbornly refuse to consider any concern the public has raised over the route of this R-Project. The very least the citizen-owners should be able to expect is the federal law and process to be followed to the letter without any inappropriate arm-twisting.
The chapter of the Environmental Impact Study for the R-Project on endangered species needs to be re-opened. The new data needs to be analyzed and considered so the best informed decisions can be made. Supplemental studies and reports should be done. Ways to try and mitigate the impact of this enormous power line on endangered Whooping Cranes need further consideration. It’s the right thing to do, but will NPPD do it? Stay tuned.
If you have any other questions, please don’t hesitate to call. Please contact my office with any comments, questions or concerns. Email me at; firstname.lastname@example.org. Mail a letter to; Sen. Tom Brewer, Room #1202, P.O. Box 94604, Lincoln, NE 68509 or call us at (402) 471-2628.