Local News

Field preparations for building the R-Project transmission line through Nebraska’s Sandhills are under way, though Nebraska Public Power District officials say construction likely must wait for spring.

Engineers for NPPD and project contractor Forbes Bros. Timberline Construction Inc. updated Lincoln County commissioners Monday on progress toward starting the 225-mile-long, 345-kilovolt line north from Gerald Gentleman Station near Sutherland.

County Board members urged NPPD senior project manager Paul Brune to stay in close touch so construction and supply crews minimize damage to county roads as they plant towers and string lines.

Commissioner Bill Henry, a 31-year member of the Dawson Public Power District board, also used the occasion to chastise NPPD for its approach with local officials and the public during the R-Project’s seven-year approval process.

“I know the need” for the project, Henry said. “I realize the need. I’m pretty disappointed in the way you handled this. ...

“You didn’t look at the picture of the people that it’s going to affect, and it’s come back to bite you in the butt and will continue to. ... You guys have stepped up to the plate, but you stepped up because you had to, not because you wanted to.”

Brune repeated NPPD’s past statements that the R-Project will improve reliability of its power delivery and relieve congestion of existing transmission lines.

He also cited the project’s potential for carrying power generated by renewable energy, a major bone of contention with Sandhills residents opposed to encouraging the spread of wind-energy turbines through the ecologically fragile region.

If Nebraskans near the R-Project line “decide locally that they want to install some renewables, this (line) makes that option available to them,” Brune said.

Two ranches between Paxton and Sutherland have joined in a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s June approval of an “incidental take permit” of the endangered American burying beetle during R-Project construction.

Robert E. Blackburn, a U.S. district judge in Colorado, has allowed NPPD to intervene in the suit and ordered parties to file their briefs between November and January.

Brune told commissioners Monday that 81% of affected landowners between Gerald Gentleman and the line’s eastern terminus near Clearwater have signed easements for NPPD’s power lines.

Project leaders are working on minor changes to the route with individual landowners, he said, while preparing to install gates, move fences, clear brush and relocate existing wells and power lines.

They’re also developing temporary “fly yards” where crews will store materials and assemble lattice towers for remote locations on the route. Brune said one such yard near Stapleton started receiving materials last week.

Henry told NPPD officials of the County Board’s worries that the county’s historic “federal aid” bridge over the North Platte River north of Sutherland can’t handle the equipment needed for construction.

“We could have worked together well on this, but it kind of fell on deaf ears,” he said.

Board Chairman Joe Hewgley asked project leaders to share the locations of their supply yards and the county roads they expect to use most.

Lindsay Stecy, Timberline’s right-of-way and environmental specialist, promised to share the information and offered to give commissioners a tour of their intended work routes.

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