The Saratoga Sun -

ISC awards Saratoga $1.5 million

Siting council grants assistance request in dealing with TransWest Express Transmission line impacts

 

April 24, 2019



On April 19, the Industrial Siting Council (ISC) held a bifurcated hearing of the TransWest Express Transmission Line and impact funding requests from five affected entities at the Platte Valley Community Center. According to Wyoming State Statutes on sales and use taxes, the five entities; Carbon County, Sweetwater County, City of Rawlins, Town of Sinclair and Town of Saratoga, could have asked for 2.67 percent of the material construction costs, or $24.61 million, in impact funding. The combined requests, however, totaled only $8 million.

Application hearing

During the first portion of the hearing, beginning at 8:30 a.m., TransWest, represented by attorney Paul Hickey, made their case before the ISC as to why their construction permit in Wyoming should be approved. With permitting completed in the three other states impacted by the project and federal permitting finished, Wyoming was the final hurdle to be cleared by TransWest Express LLC, an affiliate owned by the Anschutz Corporation. Power Company of Wyoming and Overland Trail Cattle Company are also owned by the Anschutz Corporation.

Over the course of the four hour long hearing, Hickey provided two witnesses on behalf of the TransWest Express Transmission Line; TransWest Vice President Garry Miller and David Fetter of SWCA Environmental Consultants. Throughout both Miller’s and Fetter’s testimonies, the amount of work needed for TransWest to complete the application for the ISC was revealed.

The requirements for the application are set forth in Wyoming Statute 35-12-109 and dictate that the applicant must, among other things, provide “an evaluation of potential impacts together with any plans and proposals for alleviating social and economic impacts upon local governments or special districts and alleviating environmental impacts which may result from the proposed facility.” Some aspects of this evaluation include: scenic and recreational resources, archaeological and historical resources, housing, transportation, solid waste facilities and “threatened, endangered and rare species and other species of concern identified in the state wildlife action plan as prepared by the Wyoming game and fish department.”

As part of the application process for TransWest, the company was required to conduct a housing assessment of the affected areas: Saratoga, Rawlins, Wamsutter and Baggs. According to the results of that study, TransWest expects there to be a total of 1,506 hotel rooms available in the “area of site influence” with 1,227 in Rawlins, 159 in Saratoga, 88 in Baggs and 32 in Wamsutter. Additionally, TransWest estimates a total of 410 recreational vehicle (RV) pads across nine RV parks in the affected communities as available.

Fetter, during his testimony, stated that the TransWest project would begin concurrently in 2020 with a scheduled turnaround at the Sinclair Wyoming Refining Company (SWRC). As part of the housing assessment, TransWest reached out to SWRC and were informed that the refinery was planning a 150 unit apartment complex in Rawlins to assist with housing shortages. Fetter also informed the ISC that, as an ultimate fallback, TransWest would establish a mancamp should the housing assessment prove inaccurate as the project began.

The largest portion of the project won’t be the 92 miles of transmission line that begin in Wyoming, according to TransWest, but rather the construction of what was called the Wyoming Terminal. The terminal, which will eventually be a 3,000 megawatt terminal, will begin its initial 1,500 megawatt construction in 2020 and will be constructed south of Sinclair on property owned by the Overland Trail Cattle Company.

During Miller’s testimony to the ISC, he stated that the socioeconomic study for the TransWest project estimated a total of $257.5 million in property taxes to the State of Wyoming during the 50 year life of the transmission line with an additional $53.5 million raised in sales and use tax in Wyoming during construction.

Following testimony from TransWest, James Kaste, representing the Industrial Siting Division, had only one witness for the hearing. Kimber Wichmann, the Chief Economist for the Department of Environmental Quality, provided additional testimony on the part of the Industrial Siting Division. It was made clear throughout the hearing, however, that the Industrial Siting Division had no opposition to the application and encouraged the ISC to approve the application.

It was revealed during Wichmann’s testimony that, pursuant to the Wyoming State Statutes regarding state sales tax and state use tax, impacted entities were able to ask for up to 2.67 percent of the material cost of construction during the project. This number, according to Wichmann, came to a total of $24.61 million and the total impact requested by the communities and counties in attendance was only $8 million.

The ISC, with all testimony and evidence finished, approved the application for the TransWest Express Transmission Line unanimously.

The proposed impact funding, presented by the five entities in attendance, would not get a similar vote.

Impact funding hearing

Out of the $8 million requested, in total, by Carbon and Sweetwater Counties, the City of Rawlins, the Town of Sinclair and the Town of Saratoga, the lone municipality from the Platte Valley sought $1.5 million in impact funding. That request included funding for a portion of Saratoga Lake Road, additional police officers, water and sewer, public works and loss of tourism. Council member Jon Nelson and Mayor John Zeiger represented Saratoga during the testimony with Nelson providing the majority of answers to the questions from the ISC.

Throughout the requests from all five entities, concerns were repeatedly raised by ISC member Ken Lantta of Casper. Lantta, during the Town of Saratoga’s testimony, provided similar criticisms beginning with the request for Saratoga Lake Road and its need for repair. Under Gateway West, the Town of Saratoga requested impact funding to run both water and sewer out to the Saratoga Lake Campground. Nelson explained to Lantta that, while the water and sewer extension would disturb a portion of the road out to the campground, the request under TransWest was for a different portion of the road.

“That it currently needs repair, how is that an impact caused by the project?” asked Lantta.

“The statement in our summary that it is currently in disrepair, I guess, is somewhat irrelevant because, regardless of its current state, it’s going to be disturbed further by the impacts of traffic and by the construction of that water and sewer line,” replied Nelson.

Additional concerns were raised by Lantta over the Town of Saratoga’s request for funding for two additional police officers when Saratoga is projected to house only three workers in the first phase of the project and is not expected to house any temporary workers in the second phase of the project.

“Currently, the Saratoga Police Department is staffed by a police chief, three full-time officers and several part-time officers so that we can offer 24/7 patrol and protection. We believe that an impact of this project will be, again this is above and beyond the temporary workforce that will live here, but because of the amenities that Saratoga has; the restaurants, the bars, the hot springs, the river, Saratoga Lake, things of that nature, we anticipate that, especially on nights and on weekends, that there will be an influx of workers that will choose to come here and partake in the amenities. Whatever they may be,” said Nelson.

The discussion over temporary workers coming to Saratoga to utilize the town’s amenities led to questions raised by Lantta in regards to the Town of Saratoga’s request for impact funding for loss of tourism. Lantta asked Nelson if, with those temporary workers coming to Saratoga, it wouldn’t be a positive for the town instead of a negative.

“In some regards, you’re right that those people that will be coming here, that we anticipate coming here associated with project, will be bringing money into the community. I see what you’re saying there,” Nelson said. “In some ways, for example, with a restaurant they may stay busy during their summer months whether it’s from work force or whether it’s from tourists. I’ll offer one anecdote.”

Nelson then informed Lantta of a conversation he had with one of the local fly-fishing guide businesses, Drift, and the concern raised by one of the co-owners about potential customers being displaced over the summer by temporary workers.

“To kind of summarize, in some regards you are correct that some businesses will not be negatively impacted, but some businesses really will be,” said Nelson.

Making a decision

Following testimony from all impacted entities represented at the ISC hearing, the council moved to decide on the funding requests. As the motion was made and seconded, Lantta raised concerns, again, about the requests and referenced Wyoming State Statute 39-16-111(d).

“I keep looking at the statute and the language that I see in there ‘the industrial siting council shall review the evidence of the impacts and determine, applied preponderance of evidence standard, the dollar amount of the unitigated impacts.’ So, we have to use the standard of a preponderance of evidence, which is higher than the lowest one, probable cause,” said Lantta. “As I listened to today’s testimony and as I’ve asked questions, there are, in total, of the total number of presenters providing evidence, I find so many that where there’s duplicate requests of prior projects and then, even as concerning I guess, where there are now would be … expenditures for equipment that has a life far, far longer than the life of the project.”

Following Lantta’s statements, ISC member Dusty Spomer, of Powell, countered by stating that he believed the counties and communities that had provided testimony were more aware of their needs than the council.

“I think we have to put a level of trust in these communities to put their best foot forward within the confines of their means and the statute,” said Spomer.

Chairman Jim Miller, of Sundance, weighed in as well, stating that while the impacted entities could request up to $24 million, they were only requesting a third of that amount. Lantta added that, despite the relatively small request, the entities could return through the life of the six year project and request additional impact funds.

“We’ve had some testimony already that ‘Well, we know that this is only two years worth, we know we gotta come back in for the other four years.’ So, to think, to justify, that having today contemplating 8 million of 24 as doing good. Eight million isn’t the end of it. There’s four more years of impact out there,” Lantta said.

“Ken, these people that gave us testimony today, they’re good people. They represent good entities of our state. I trust their word. Personally,” said Jim Miller before calling for a vote on the impact funds.

With a vote by roll call requested by Lantta, the approval of the impact funding in a monthly payment installment similar to TB Flatts passed by a 6-1 vote with Lantta casting the descending vote.

 

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