PRESIDENT'S COLUMN: APS proposes new powerline

Photo Key: Blue-CNF and APS proposed route; Green-rerouted Kel Fox Trail; and Orange-Big Park Council recommended route.

Photo Key: Blue-CNF and APS proposed route; Green-rerouted Kel Fox Trail; and Orange-Big Park Council recommended route.

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John Wichert

Are you interested in preserving our breath-taking views when you enter the Village? Or, perhaps like many of us, you are concerned about minimizing potential fire risk?

Did you know that in 2019 APS proposed a new, 13.7-mile high-voltage powerline route across Coconino National Forest (CNF) connecting substations in McGuireville and the Village of Oak Creek? The stated purpose is to create a “loop” that would help restore power quickly in the event of an outage and to reduce grid overloads in other areas of Verde Valley.

In 2022 CNF proposed a route that would bury the line along most of Beaverhead Flat Road, however the line would be above-ground along the Kel Fox Trail and the base of the Beavertail Butte at the south end of the VOC, finally following along the Jack’s Canyon Wash to the VOC substation. This plan proposes rerouting the Kel Fox Trail to allow a “service road” along the above-ground powerlines.

As illustrated on the above map, the Big Park Council (BPC) has requested burial of the transmission line along Beaverhead Flat Road and into the Village. Burial of the line near the VOC would mitigate wildfire risk (of ever increasing importance), reduce disruption of the Kel Fox Trail, and preserve the viewshed along the Red Rock Scenic Byway.

In May 2021, BPC voted to support an entirely buried line from Cornville Road to the VOC substation. The BPC APS subcommittee then drafted and submitted to USFS a detailed 29-page comment letter in January 2022 opposing an above-ground line.

As of July 19, the publication of the draft decision (which triggers a 45-day appeal period) is now Jan. 4, 2024, with a deadline for filing an appeal in mid-February. The “Final-final decision”, would be issued in mid to late April 2024. If the draft decision does not require burial of the line in areas adjacent to the VOC, the BPC plans to appeal to the regional forester in Albuquerque. If that appeal fails, what then?

The only remaining remedy available for our community would be to file a lawsuit in federal district court seeking relief and a petition for a preliminary injunction to stop construction.

In order to assure the Big Park/VOC community that we are doing everything that we reasonably can to have this line buried, the BPC voted to request a formal legal assessment by an experienced low-cost environmental law clinic. The purpose of this assessment is to evaluate the potential strength of a lawsuit against the Forest Service, should that be necessary.

The estimated cost of such a legal assessment is from $5,000 to $10,000. Our fundraising target is $10,000 to ensure sufficient funding for this research. Big Park Council hopes to have the research completed no later than November of this year to be prepared to file a lawsuit, in the event of an adverse decision by the regional forester.

Therefore, BPC is asking all interested organizations and individuals who desire to protect our village from wildfire, to protect the Kel Fox Trail, and to preserve the beautiful views from the Red Rock Scenic Byway to contribute to this important cause. Contributions to this fund may be made by check to Big Park Council, PO Box 21021, Sedona, AZ 86341 or via PayPal, Zelle or Venmo by entering our username buryvocpowerline@gmail.com or @buryvocpowerline. (Possibly tax deductible if BPC is approved a 501(c)3)

Thank you so much for your contribution to this effort.

John Wichert is the president of the Big Park Council.


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