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Yellowstone Seeking Public Comments On Utility Service Upgrades

The National Park Service (NPS) is seeking public comment on a plan to implement infrastructure upgrades to improve the reliability, safety and overall service quality of NorthWestern Energy’s (NWE) electrical power distribution within Yellowstone National Park.

NorthWestern Energy, an investor-owned utility that provides electricity and natural gas in the northwest quadrant of the United States, has provided electrical power to Yellowstone National Park since the late 1950s using both aerial and buried transmission lines.  Much of NWE’s existing power infrastructure in the park has not been updated since the 1950’s and is prone to frequent outages because of the remote nature of the park, inhospitable terrain, climate, and tree cover near transmission lines.

Additionally, the park’s system lacks modern communication infrastructure that would normally facilitate diagnosing and correcting the cause of power outages from NWE’s central offices in Montana.  Further, the lack of reliable communications inside the park can make it difficult for NWE employees to safely implement repairs when outages occur.  The purpose of the Environmental Assessment (EA) is to evaluate alternatives that may reduce the duration of power outages, improve system reliability, and improve visitor and employee safety.

Alternatives proposed include technology to incorporate an automated, remote monitoring and control system, as well as the installation of equipment buildings, back-up power generators and propane fuel tanks. Proposed communication technology upgrades include the potential construction of new metal lattice towers at each of the seven existing NWE electrical substations located within the park and the upgrade of a repeater site outside the park on U.S. Forest Service property.

The NPS is inviting public comment and engagement on the proposed plan pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA).  The EA can be found online at http://parkplanning.nps.gov/NWEPlan.  A hard copy can also be requested by calling (307) 344-7147, or by writing to Compliance Office, Attention: Electric Transmission/Distribution System-Communication & Automation EA, National Park Service, P.O. Box 168, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming 82190.

Respondents are encouraged to submit their comments through the Planning, Environment and Public Comment (PEPC) Web site online at http://parkplanning.nps.gov/NWEPlan.  Comments may also be mailed to the address above or hand-delivered during normal business hours to the Mailroom in the park’s Administration Building in Mammoth Hot Springs, Wyoming.

Comments will not be accepted by fax, e-mail, or in any manner other than those specified above.  Bulk comments submitted in any format on behalf of others will not be accepted.  Comments must be received by midnight MDT, Friday, December 6, 2013.  After this date, public comments will be evaluated and a decision on whether to implement the plan will be made by the Regional Director of the Intermountain Region of the NPS.