News Column

President Protects 242,000 Acres in Northern New Mexico

March 26, 2013

Matt Hildner

A new national monument just south of the San Luis Valley won't prohibit a new transmission line but it will require the approval of the secretary of the Interior. President Barack Obama signed the proclamation for the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument Monday, protecting more than 242,000 acres in northern New Mexico.

While neither the White House or the U.S. Bureau of Land Management were able to provide a map of the monument Monday, the proclamation does not preclude the federal government from allowing upgrades to existing utility corridors.

Nor did it bar the creation of new rights of way for transmission, so long as doing so was not inconsistent with the protection of the monument's attributes.

Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association had announced in January that it would study a potential line from Alamosa County into northern New Mexico as a way to shore up the reliability of the valley's power grid. "This echoes our own belief that transmission projects can be planned, constructed and maintained in concert with preservation and conservation principles," the company said in a written statement. Tri-State has yet to select a corridor for the line, but officials have previously said they could potentially connect the line from the valley to an east-west line that runs between Taos, N.M., to near Ojo Caliente, N.M.

Sarah Carlisle, a spokeswoman for the utility, said Tri-State was in the process of contacting stakeholders to determine where and when to hold informational meetings.

Previous efforts to protect the area through legislation had included an area that stretched from San Antonio Mountain on the west to Ute Mountain in the east, thereby taking up most of the flat ground south of the valley.

Those proposals stalled in Congress.

The president, however, acted under the authority of the Antiquities Act, which gives him the power to create a national monument.

Source: (c)2013 The Pueblo Chieftain (Pueblo, Colo.) Distributed by MCT Information Services