Groups Urge National Park Service To Block Transmission Lines Along Everglades National Park

A transmission line corridor being pursued by Florida Power and Light would pass through this wood stork colony. Photo by Matthew Schwartz.

A proposal to string a ribbon of high-voltage power lines along the edge of Everglades National Park is being met with strong opposition from a number of groups that want the Interior Department and Park Service to reject the request and acquire the land the lines would traverse.

The proposal from Florida Power and Light is to locate 70, 150-foot-tall, high-power transmission lines along the park's boundary to reach two proposed nuclear power reactors next to two existing units at the Turkey Point nuclear facility on the edge of nearby Biscayne National Park.

While the preferred route would take the corridor along the Everglades boundary, one option would be to run it through an inholding owned by the utility that is surrounded by the park. The 2009 Omnibus Public Lands Bill gave the Park Service permission to pursue acquisition of this 7-mile-long tract.

The agency is in the midst of taking public comment, through July 25, on a proposal to acquire the land through an exchange with the utility or some other means (ie., outright purchase or through eminent domain).

Documents prepared for the environmental impact statement examining the project and whether the Park Service should acquire the land have said the towers could present risks to birds in the area. Although a report (attached) on the possible impacts to birds called for more study, it also said that the preferred location "would result in the loss of more than 100 acres of habitat used by more than 200 avian species, including loss of breeding habitat used by more than 50 avian species."

"This loss of habitat," the report continued, "would affect a diverse and abundant assemblage of avian species nesting, foraging, and migrating through habitats located within Everglades National Park."

Bird species that rely on wetlands, such as wading birds, raptors, and passerines, "are likely to be impacted by the proposed power lines. However, not all bird groups and species are at the same degree of risk of injury...," the report added. "A more comprehensive risk assessment for avifauna in and around Everglades National Park will need to evaluate the entire length of the proposed Florida Power and Light Co. transmission corridor in Miami-Dade County."

The plan is being opposed by the Sierra Club, National Parks Conservation Association, Clean Water Action, the Izaak Walton League, and Tropical Audubon Society. The South Florida Wildlands Association has announced its intention to sue to halt the project. NPCA also has presented the agencies with thousands of comments against the powerline plan.

"The use is completely incompatible with the designated purpose of the Everglades, and it is therefore necessary that FPL find an alternative route," NPCA has said in opposing the transmission line corridor. "Taxpayers are the rightful owners of America's national parks. Conveying a track of Everglades National Park to a for-profit utility for a transmission lines corridor poses a threat to the Everglades ecosystem and conflicts with long-term restoration efforts. "

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Comments

In addition to avian habitat loss due to the clearing required under above ground high voltage power lines, there is ample research indicating that up to several hundred birds are killed annually per kilometre of overhead high voltage lines and towers. Birds collide with overhead lines, shield wires and towers. Visible markers fastened to lines and shield wires may reduce bird mortality somewhat, but not appreciably, and these visible markers add to the unsightliness of the already ugly towers and lines. As well, electromagnetic fields (EMFs) and pollutant-charged corona ions emitted by overhead high tension lines negatively affect avian health through reduced egg size, eggshell thinning, reduced egg laying and reduced hatching success. Several aspects of bird migration, mate selection, sleep and feeding patterns are also negatively affected by overhead high voltage power line EMFs. Burying these lines eliminates these negative impacts. See Fact Sheets produced by Responsible Electricity Transmission for Albertans at http://www.RETA.ca.

Thanks Kurt for drawing folks attention to this important issue.

NPS has created a rather complex public comment form for this project:

http://parkplanning.nps.gov/commentForm.cfm?documentID=41410

Folks wanting to comment should know that they can jump to the final box and tell NPS how they want their national park to be managed. Answering the questions NPS has asked is completely optional and should not keep folks from commenting in the open comment box at the bottom of the form.

NPS has identified three alternatives for folks to consider.

1. The "No Action Alternative". Florida Power and Light (FPL) would retain their old corridor inside the park and it would be up to FPL whether to try and get their massive powerlines permitted. Just about impossible since the 1989 Everglades Protection and Expansion Act required that this land be managed as "park".

2. Do the swap which was authorized (but not mandated) by the Ominubus Bill of 2009. NPS would acquire the original FPL corridor - but would give up NPS land on the east side of the park. The park would gain a new industrial horizon visible for miles which (along with the necessary utility access road which would be constructed) would likely lead to impacts on wetlands, bird and animal populations, and facilitate the spread of invasive species throughout the area.

3. Acquire the land as authorized by the 1989 Protection and Expansion Act. In 1996, the NPS wrote a short letter to FPL telling the company that they had determined that the "fair market value" of the property was $109,300. The company could do a voluntary sale or - if they refused - NPS would acquire the property by eminent domain in order to fulfill the purposes of the Act - the ecological and hydrological restoration of the East Everglades and Shark River Slough (the main source of water for Everglades National Park).

Alternative 3 was exactly what congress intended when this important piece of public land was acquired. It is fully spelled out in the 1989 Everglades National Park Protection and Expansion Act and the NPS's Land Protection Plan written to implement that Act. After over 20 years of delay, it's high time to fulfill that promise to the American people.

Matt Schwartz
Executive Director
South Florida Wildlands Association

If the power does not get exported, will a line be needed to meet needs of the rest of state to import?
I find a nuclear power plant in a state that could be underwater in a couple hundred years to be the height of idiocy following Fukashima

The Sierra Club will continue to strongly oppose this plan. Overhead high voltage lines are not consistent with the mission of our National Parks. We need to protect these areas from these sort of developments. The purpose of National Parks is to provide a break from the eyesore of Transimission Lines. FPL needs to withdraw this proposal and donate the land back to the National Park and the people of the United States.