NPPD hires contractor for Sand Hills transmission line, Sen. Brewer warns of threat to migratory birds

NPPD hires contractor for Sand Hills transmission line, Sen. Brewer warns of threat to migratory birds
World-Herald News Service

LINCOLN — A controversial electric transmission line planned through the Nebraska Sand Hills now has a contractor, but construction won’t start until it gets an OK from federal wildlife officials.

Directors of the Nebraska Public Power District voted Thursday in Columbus to approve a $265 million bid by Forbes Brothers Timberline Construction of Rapid City, South Dakota, to build the 225-mile, 345-kilovolt R-Project transmission line.

But NPPD officials said construction will not begin until the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service completes its review on the project’s impact on the endangered American burying beetle.

NPPD Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Tom Kent said he expects that the utility will get its so-called “incidental take permit” in the first three months of the year.

A staunch opponent of the project, State Sen. Tom Brewer of Gordon, said he is still working to convince the Fish and Wildlife Service to also require an incidental take permit for the endangered whooping crane. Brewer said a recent report, not considered by the wildlife agency, warns of greater deaths of the migrating birds.

“That might cause a delay, but it’s the right thing to do,” Brewer said Thursday evening.

NPPD spokesman Mark Becker said the power district and feds have both reviewed the potential impact of the R-Project and concluded that such a permit is not needed for whooping cranes.

A 2008 study indicated that there were 45 confirmed whooping crane deaths from striking transmission lines from 1956 to 2006. Most strikes, the report said, occurred during short, low-level flights between roosting and feeding areas.

NPPD has been seeking to build the line for several years to increase transmission reliability and service renewable energy projects. But the project has met opposition and protest from Sand Hills landowners. The line would run north from Sutherland to Thedford, then east to Holt County.