La Paz County has sent a letter to the Western Area Power Administration (WAPA) in support of a proposal re-routing 60 year-old power transmission lines that would finally take them away from the Parker Strip.
The current power lines were constructed in the 1950s to bring 161 kilovolts of power from the hydroelectric plant at Parker Dam to a substation in Bouse, AZ. Rather than serving the river communities, the lines simply cross through them, running south from Parker Dam starting on the California side of the Colorado River for 9 miles, then crossing the river south of Buckskin Mountain State Park, where it then passes through most of the residential and recreational areas of the Arizona side of the Parker Strip. The line passes overhead through miles of riverside communities in the ‘Upriver’ area of Parker before turning south-southeast toward Shea Road where it follows AZ-72 towards Bouse.
The current lines use aging H-frame wood pole structures, which, according to WAPA, are in “poor condition” and present potential safety issues to workers and the continued reliability of the lines.
“In addition to the safety issues, public and private encroachment has occurred on the right-of-way making it difficult to access the line for maintenance.” – WAPA
The most talked-about proposal would divert the lines away from the developed Parker Strip and into undeveloped desert areas on the California side, using existing right-of-ways as much as possible, including a long stretch parallel to an existing power line which runs to the Headgate Rock substation near the town of Parker. The line would cross the river north of BlueWater Resort & Casino and connect to the existing line near Shea Road.
The new lines would be constructed on steel poles ranging from 50 to 100 feet in height, going up to around 130 feet where the lines cross the river. Once constructed and energized, the old lines would be removed, including the river crossing south of Buckskin and all of the wires and wood pole structures from the Parker Strip.
Because of the upgraded steel construction, the lines would be higher capacity and able to carry an increased voltage. Initially, they would be operated at the existing voltage of 161-kV, but would be capable of operating at 230-kV in future to meet anticipated demand.
The County’s letter, addressed to Michael Setering at WAPA, mentions a “new, third alternative” which would involve simply replacing the old lines but leaving them in their current locations. The County said it “strongly opposes” such a move, saying that the option “completely ignores the resulting/continued economic and social injustice caused by the present route of these lines.”
“Any land within proximity to the beautiful Colorado River is limited and highly desirable. The present route of WAPA’s transmission lines is a tremendous detriment to the potential development of the area. While it is unfortunate planners in the 1950s lacked the foresight to route these lines through much more appropriate routes, the only action that would be worse would be to ignore what we now know and allow the current route to remain in place.” – County Board of Supervisors
In the 1950s, the Bureau of Reclamation ran the transmission lines, and did not have regulations that required them to consider aesthetic concerns. “In those days the Bureau of Reclamation simply said point to point, they drew a line and that’s where they built a line,” said a WAPA report in 2002.
This attitude changed when, in his message to Congress in 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson discussed the need for beauty in American life: “Beauty can enlarge a man’s imagination and revive his spirit,” while “ugliness can demean the people who live among it.” In keeping with this new approach, he stated, “It would be a neglectful generation indeed, indifferent alike to the judgment of history and the command of principle, which failed to preserve and extend” the heritage of a beautiful America. Therefore, “we can introduce, into all our planning, our programs, our buildings, and our growth, a conscious and active concern for the value of beauty.”
WAPA took over the transmission lines from Reclamation in 1977, and adopted a strict set of regulations regarding where they could be placed. These included considerations of “natural topography”, “advantages or disadvantages from an appearance standpoint”, the sightliness or unsightliness of access roads, “public view”, and to “avoid altogether, if possible, the major areas of highest amenity value by so planning the general route of the line in the first place, even if the total mileage is somewhat increased in consequence.”
The total mileage of the line will indeed increase if the plan is implemented as per the proposal the County supports. But the line would completely bypass the majority of the Colorado River and the communities along it, increasing the aesthetic value of an area prized for its natural beauty, the river and its surrounding desert vistas.
WAPA is also obliged to consider the environmental impact of its proposal, which meant a public hearing at BlueWater Resort & Casino in Parker earlier this month, at which it provided an overview for the public of the proposals under consideration, and gave an opportunity for locals to voice an opinion. But the meeting was not well attended or well advertised, and not many were able to be there.
The public comment period is still open through Saturday, August 19th, and the agency can be reached with comments via email. The email address is and must reference ‘Rebuild Project DOE/EA-1987’. Emails must include your name, affiliation (if any), address and phone number.
The County’s letter requests that the County be named as a cooperating agency as the only local government representing the citizens located along the majority of the affected area, and copies were sent to Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake, Representative Paul Gosar, Energy Department Secretary Rick Perry, Governor Doug Ducey and others. It was signed by Supervisors D.L. Wilson, Duce Minor and Holly Irwin.
“I’ve always thought of [the lines] as a scar on a beautiful landscape,” said Minor.
If the proposal passes successfully through its environmental impact assessment, it will have to pass some other hurdles before being green-lit. The process started several years ago when the need for replacement of the existing infrastructure was identified.