Electric Avenue

CPS says Government Canyon is a no-go

Former U.S. Senator Phil Gramm and his wife Wendy pulled a lot of strings to divert proposed new high-voltage transmission lines away from their 1,000-acre ranch, but it appears topography, endangered species, and the Edwards Aquifer trumped politics - this time.

City Public Service has two proposed routes for its new 345-kilovolt transmission line through northwestern Bexar County, and to the relief of many local environmentalists, the utility announced January 30 that neither runs through Government Canyon State Natural Area, which lies east of Gramm's property.


Wednesday, February 18
Helotes 4-H Activity Center
12132 Leslie Rd

Thursday, February 19
Medina Valley High School
8395 FM 471

Info: Contact CPS at 353-4168
or 800-773-3077

"We're really pleased that this was a process that CPS put in place and voices were heard," said Karla Fernandez-Parker, spokesperson for the Government Canyon Natural History Association. "An area that has been protected is protected. Government Canyon is about the protection of aquifer and endangered species. The right thing happened: It will be kept pristine."

CPS plans to build the transmission line in Bexar and Medina counties. The new line will start at the Cagnon Substation, west of Loop 1604 and north of Hwy. 90, but the route it will take to connect with the Lower Colorado River Authority is still being deliberated.

Last November, the project became embroiled in controversy when the Gramms used their political influence to try to convince CPS to veer the proposed route away from their land and towards Government Canyon State Natural Area. `See related story, "Power play," October 30-November 5, 2003`.

In Step 7 of CPS' 12-step process for siting the lines, two public meetings will be held this month about the proposed routes. Step 8 requires CPS to conduct a detailed environmental impact study of each route, which considers 39 criteria, including the lines' proximity to homes, schools, parks, floodplains, and endangered species. In Step 9, the CPS Board of Trustees could vote on a preferred site as early as April; a more detailed environmental assessment on the recommended route will be released in Step 10.

Although no laws prevent the utility from routing the 180-foot steel pole towers through GCSNA, CPS Director of Project Management and Process Improvement Performance Ralph Alonzo said CPS would have to apply to so many federal, state, and local agencies, that it could take up to five years before the lines could be built - well past 2006, when the lines should be providing power to growing northwest Bexar County.

The GCSNA's hilly, rocky terrain would also increase the cost of the project, whereas the topography west of the canyon is flat. CPS considered other routes, but some affected as many as 117 homes near Helotes; the two current proposed routes - one of which could cross a private road on the Gramm ranch - would affect five homes, including several in nearby San Geronimo Valley.

It isn't technically or financially feasible to bury the lines because of their high voltage and the length of the route, which extends for many miles. Underground cables would need to be cooled by a mineral oil casing - which, if broken, could threaten the aquifer - or pressurized air, which would require forming huge tunnels around the lines.

Since 1993, Texas Parks and Wildlife, the Edwards Aquifer Authority, Trust for Public Lands, and many private donors and foundations have spent millions of dollars to buy the 9,100 acres that comprise the GCSNA.

Government Canyon State Natural Area is scheduled to open in June 2005, although it occasionally offers interpretative programs during the construction phase. To volunteer at GCSNA, call 688-9603. •

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