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1:06 AM Tue, Nov. 20th

Study of pipeline routes delays release of environmental report on power plant for a month<BR>

Confusion about where to put a pipeline is delaying the environmental report on a power plant proposed near Wikieup.

Federal agencies that are preparing an environmental study on the gas-fired energy plant have delayed the release of the draft environmental impact statement from early April to mid-May because they are continuing to examine pipeline routes.

The Bureau of Land Management and Western Area Power Administration are reviewing two alternate routes for a natural gas pipeline because the initially chosen route traverses Arizona Department of Transportation right of way along U.S.

93, a BLM consultant said.

The natural gas pipeline would carry gas from existing pipelines along Interstate 40 for 36 to 38 miles to the Big Sandy Energy Project site southeast of Wikieup.

"We have now moved that route outside the right of way," said Dwight Carey, a BLM consultant who is serving as project manager for the study.

He said Caithness Big Sandy LLC, which proposed the power plant, in turn has come up with another route that is also outside the right of way.

The pipeline route review will take no longer than a month because the BLM has studied other routes, Carey said.

The BLM has jurisdiction over the pipeline route because it goes through federal lands that it administers.

WAPA also has a say because it controls the power grid that will be used for transmitting energy from the Big Sandy Energy Project once the gas-fired plant begins producing electricity.

A WAPA press release states the draft environmental impact statement will examine the environmental effects of building and operating the pipeline.

Those effects will include the required building of construction staging areas and a 75-foot-wide area of disturbance within each pipeline route.

The study also examines the water supply, Indian artifacts, wildlife and air quality.

The 720-megawatt power plant is expected to use up to 3,200 acre-feet of water per year.

Caithness, based in New York City, hired Paradise Valley geologist Paul Manera to drill and test wells, Carey said.

Manera in turn submitted the data to another consultant, URS Corp.

of Denver, which is preparing a groundwater model.

"We, the BLM, have not accepted the report yet (on water)," Carey said.

"I can't say what is says.

Their analysis has come up with some results that will be part of the draft EIS."

Manera and URS officials could not be reached for comment regarding the water aspect of the draft.

The draft also determined that an endangered species, the Southwestern willow flycatcher, uses the Big Sandy River habitat area for breeding before migrating to the tropics, according to a newsletter prepared by Carey.

The bird spends the spring and early summer in Arizona and other Southwestern states.

The bird's populations have been declining because of destruction of habitat and attacks on its young by the brown-headed cowbird, he wrote.

Carey, who has been serving as a project consultant since June 2000, said the study is on schedule.

"We are working to get this document out the door for the public," he said.

After the study is released, a 45-day public comment period will follow, he said.

Public hearings and meetings in Wikieup and possibly in other communities will be scheduled during the comment period.

Carey said a final study, which contains responses to written and spoken comments, is due to be released by late August, followed by a 30-day review period.

He does not expect the BLM and WAPA to issue permits to Caithness until early October.

Caithness officials could not be reached for comment.

The Mohave County Supervisors approved the power plant project a year ago.