Everglades National Park Mulling Acquisition Of Power Transmission Corridor

Everglades National Park officials are mulling an option to acquire a transmission corridor along roughly 7 miles of one edge of the park, and are collecting public comment through mid-March on the matter.

At issue is a corridor that Florida Power and Light has proposed to locate 70, 150-foot-tall, high-power transmission lines 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 company's 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.

Park Service acquisition of the FPL property, or a flowage easement on the property, is needed to support the mission of the park and is vital to long-term protection of the park for ecosystem restoration purposes, according to park officials. The FPL property (a 320 acre, 7.4 mile corridor in the EEEA) is needed to support the goals of restoring the Northeast Shark River Slough and to fulfill the purposes of the Modified Water Deliveries project and the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan.

Park staff have prepared six alternatives for approaching the matter. They are contained in the park's East Everglades Expansion Area (EEEA) Draft Environmental Impact Statement.

• Under alternative 1a, the No-Action Alternative, the NPS would not take action to acquire FPL property within the park or a flowage easement on it. There would be no change in status of the FPL lands in the park, and this alternative assumes that FPL would not construct transmission lines. This is the alternative that all other alternatives are compared to in the EIS impact analysis.

• Under alternative 1b, the NPS would not take action to acquire FPL property within the park or a flowage easement on it. Although it represents the same land acquisition option as alternative 1a, this alternative assumes that FPL would construct transmission lines on its existing land in the park.

• Under alternative 2, the FPL corridor would be acquired directly by purchase or through the exercise of eminent domain authority by the United States. This alternative assumes that FPL would likely acquire a replacement corridor east of the existing park boundary and the transmission lines would be built outside of the park.

• Under alternative 3 or 4, the NPS would acquire fee title to the 320 acre FPL corridor through an exchange for park property (alternative 3) or an easement on that property (alternative 4). The exchange corridor would consist of 260 acres along 6.5 miles of the eastern boundary of the EEEA. Under alternative 3, the boundary of the park would be adjusted to remove the lands conveyed to FPL out of federal ownership. Under Alternative 4, the NPS would retain ownership of the 260 acre corridor and grant a utility easement to FPL. The construction scenario associated with these alternatives assumes that FPL would build the transmission lines in the exchange corridor and meet the terms and conditions agreed to in the exchange.

• Under alternative 5, the NPS would acquire a perpetual flowage easement on FPL’s property within the EEEA through purchase, condemnation, or donation by FPL. FPL would retain ownership of its corridor in the park during the term of the easement and could seek permits to construct transmission lines there. The construction scenario associated with this alternative would be the same as for alternative 1b.

Public comment on the draft plan is being accepted through March 18.

Park officials have not identified a preferred alternative. First they want to gather more public input on the matter. They intend to identify a preferred alternative when the final EIS comes out, possibly late this year.

The land in question contains valuable bird habitat. An earlier study on the proposed transmission line project stated 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."

A public meeting on the draft EIS is set for February 19 from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Florida International University-Stadium Club, 11310 Southwest 17th Street, Miami Florida, 33199

The Stadium Club is located within the FIU Football Stadium between gates 2 and 3.