Transmission line easement on Young CA seeks to balance utilities and nature

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Jefferson County, Mo — Construction of an electric power transmission line by contractors of Ameren Missouri is beginning on Young Conservation Area. Ameren Missouri has determined a need to improve electric service and reliability to customers in Eureka, Pacific, Byrnesville, Cedar Hill, Dittmer, House Springs and Scottsdale. Demand has grown by 30 percent since the last major upgrade in 1993, with needs projected to increase 2-3 percent per year in the area.

The project is being done in accordance with an easement agreement recently signed by Ameren and the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC), which owns and manages Young. The line will connect two electric substations. Since the transmission line is for a public utility, Ameren had the potential to condemn the property through use of Eminent Domain. To avoid this possibility, MDC chose instead to work with Ameren to proactively develop an easement across Young that will pose the least environmental impact to the watershed as a whole, and with results that will in fact improve habitat for some species.

“The whole watershed is highly acclaimed for its biodiversity and water quality,” according to Gus Raeker, Forestry District Supervisor for the Conservation Department. Young Conservation Area lies in the LaBarque Creek Watershed, an area of high-integrity natural communities and a large variety of plant and animal species—a characteristic called biological diversity. It has seen minimum impact from development. Such conditions are rare so close to large metropolitan areas like St. Louis.

Three routes for the transmission line were considered. The one chosen is a 100 foot wide path extending for about two miles across the Young Conservation Area. Raeker indicated even though the chosen route goes through Young, it poses the least amount of impact to the entire watershed due to the fact it was the shortest route, and included MDC’s environmental provisions.

The project is part of a constant challenge to balance requirements of natural habitats with the needs of human development. Ameren has agreed to conservation-friendly construction practices that will reduce negative impact. These include minimizing crossing streams with heavy equipment, not using large mechanical equipment in sensitive riparian areas—the wooded corridors along streams—enacting strict water control measures to prevent erosion, and confining heavy equipment work to periods of dry or frozen ground to avoid rutting. Ameren will also enact on-going invasive species control measures after construction is completed.

Despite some limited disturbance to the area, the end result of the construction will actually have some positive results. Raeker assured that the agreement requires the easement to be re-established as much as possible in a shrub community with tall, brushy vegetation, rather than the more typical mowed or broadcast sprayed transmission line.

“Even though there will be species negatively impacted, there will definitely be species that are positively impacted by this as well,” said Raeker. “There’re a lot of reptiles that are found in that area, but they really need very sunny, rocky conditions,” he explained. “By taking some trees off, you create habitat conditions that a lot of reptiles need.”

Raeker also noted that some neo-tropical migrant songbirds should increase on the area. Many of these birds require dense ground level vegetation, which is currently lacking in the mature forest found on most of the area. Historically, Young had more open and brushy habitat created by frequent wildfires. Since wildfire is now rare, this easement will have the benefit of returning some of these historic habitat types back to the area.

Conservation involves wise use of the land. The transmission line easement agreement between Ameren Missouri and the Department of Conservation for Young Conservation Area was designed to accommodate utility needs while maintaining and benefiting the natural communities of the LaBarque Creek Watershed as a whole. “It’s going to be as environmentally friendly a transmission line as you could ask for,” said Raeker.

Young Conservation Area can be reached by taking I-44 to Route W, then going three miles west on Route FF. It lies in Jefferson County and consists of 1,145 acres. It offers opportunities for hiking, bird and wildlife viewing, photography, fishing and hunting.