- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 27, 2015

COLUMBUS, Neb. (AP) - Nebraska Public Power District has settled on a final route for a new high-voltage power line that will cross several counties in the state’s environmentally sensitive Sandhills region.

The district announced the decision Monday, saying it sent letters last week to landowners along the route as part of the district’s effort to obtain entry permission.

The transmission line will start at Gerald Gentleman power plant near Sutherland and go north to a new substation near Thedford and then east toward Holt County to a new substation that will connect into an existing transmission line.

NPPD Vice President Tom Kent said the route has changed from what was announced in April and May last year. It now avoids a private airstrip, is farther from several homes and also doesn’t cross some new wetland reserve program properties.

Some ranchers along the route have said the line poses a threat to the Sandhills’ fragile ecosystem of grasses and dunes. One of them, Bob Price, said he hasn’t reviewed the new route yet but still thinks the 345,000-volt transmission line shouldn’t be built.

“The Sandhills should be protected and respected,” Price told the Lincoln Journal Star. “The rangeland of the northern Great Plains is being challenged right and left, and we should preserve what is left.”

Price, who belongs to the group Save the Sandhills, said the group doesn’t have a legal avenue to challenge the final route.

The district said it will use steel poles on sections that have relatively good access and it will use lattice towers that could be installed by helicopter on sections of the project that have limited access. The towers minimize the effect on fragile soil, the district said.

Line construction should start in February 2017, the district said, while the land is scheduled to be in service by September 2018.

The Southwest Power Pool, a regional electricity transmission group that includes the Nebraska district, is paying 93 percent of the $361 million project cost, with the district paying the remainder.

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