KEMMERER -- Dick Walker grew up in Lincoln County, moved away for work and then returned to the area after retiring a few years ago.

He purchased a 120-acre lot in the scenic Commissary Ridge area -- which lies at the southern end of the Bridger-Teton National Forest in southwest Wyoming -- and built a modest summer home.

Walker's spread now sits between an existing electrical transmission line corridor and the Bureau of Land Management's preferred route for PacifiCorp's and Idaho Power's ambitious Gateway West transmission line project.

Instead of following the existing transmission corridor that runs from the Jim Bridger Power Plant in Sweetwater County, an approximately 30-mile segment of the proposed route traverses through the Commissary Ridge area.

Walker and a bevy of area residents believe the $2 billion project will cut a disruptive path through too much private land on the ridge.

"It's absolutely ridiculous to site these lines around houses, especially around homes that people have spent their entire life savings on," Walker told Gov. Dave Freudenthal during a town meeting Thursday night in Kemmerer.

"Nobody in their right mind wants to live under a power line ... our property values will drop, and we won't be able to give these homes away," Walker said.

Walker joined about 100 Lincoln County residents attending the governor's third and final "community discussions" on wind energy and electrical transmission lines in Wyoming at Kemmerer High School.

The first discussion was held in Douglas in April, and the second was conducted in Wheatland last month.

Nearly all who spoke in Kemmerer expressed their dissatisfaction with the preferred "northern route" for the Gateway project.

Speaker after speaker said they favored locating the transmission lines within the existing corridor.

"From day one, it only made sense to me to use the existing corridor," said Dan Schwab, who owns a ranch on the Hams Fork River.

Leaders in Wyoming's wind energy industry want to connect turbines to the power grid and to export more electrical generation out of the state. Energy developers say bottlenecks in the current transmission system in Wyoming are holding back new wind energy projects such as the Gateway West endeavor.

In order to connect those new energy resources to distant markets, more transmission lines are needed, Freudenthal said.

Freudenthal, Lincoln County Commission Chairman Jerry Harmon and state energy officials flew over the Commissary Ridge area Thursday afternoon before the community discussion.

The governor said the state agrees the transmission line should be sited within the existing corridor that runs from the Jim Bridger Power Plant.

"Seeing it from the air ... it's even more evident we need to stay within that existing corridor," Freudenthal said.

"So much of this country does not have the level of disturbance that the existing corridor does," he said. "For us, it's just logical to follow that existing route."

Proposed route

The Gateway West transmission line project is a joint effort between Idaho Power and Rocky Mountain Power.

The companies plan to construct and operate 230- and 500-kilovolt transmission lines from the proposed Windstar substation near the Dave Johnston Power Plant at Glenrock to the Hemingway substation near Melba, Idaho.

The proposed project is composed of 11 transmission line segments with a total length of approximately 1,150 miles across southern Wyoming and southern Idaho.

The proposed line crosses about 500 miles of public land managed by the BLM, including 200 miles in Wyoming and 300 miles in Idaho.

 The BLM expects to release a draft environmental impact statement this fall that will contain its preferred route for the line.

The northern route would follow the existing transmission line corridor from Bridger to the Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge. From there, about 26 miles of the route moves north of Kemmerer and Opal, across Commissary Ridge and down into Cokeville.

Numerous residents queried Freudenthal about the best way to fight the proposed Gateway route.

Many people, including Jo Himes, secretary for the Spring Canyon Ranch association, said they missed the BLM's first "scoping" period because they were unaware of the project.

She wondered what the next step for opponents might be.

"We need to fight this ... but as a layman, I have no idea how to fight this," Himes said.

"I'm concerned ... the route will go down a steep slope and through such a pristine place, and it won't recognize the beauty that is there," she said. "And if they carve out (the new transmission corridor) ... you can bet other lines will come through.

"The total impact of this is not one line, but years of lines."

Freudenthal said it appears to him that the BLM "attached greater weight to" viewshed and historic trails concerns than to other impact issues.

"Somebody decided the viewshed was the only thing that mattered ... rather than balancing competing values, they're going to tear up entirely new country," he said.

The governor noted both the state and Lincoln County are cooperating agencies in the BLM's study process and said the entities should coordinate their opposition.

"I know this is incredibly frustrating ... and I appreciate your anger, but stick with it," Freudenthal said.

"Make sure you get your communities lined up (against the project) ... the key is to get galvanized in our comments," he told residents. "Tell the BLM there are other values out there besides the viewshed ... and make sure those other values are heard."

Contact southwest Wyoming bureau reporter Jeff Gearino at (307) 875-5359 or gearino@tribcsp.com

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