8. Comparative Discussion
The Final EIR/EIS concludes that because it avoids most visual impacts on ANF lands, the alternative that is preferred from a visual resources perspective is Alternative 5. Alternative 5 would have the most beneficial effects on the visual environment of the ANF by removing the existing 66 kV transmission line infrastructure and would create the least detrimental effects on ANF lands by crossing only three small, scattered tracts, totaling 1.5-miles in length. Moreover, Alternative 5 would cross the PCT in an environment where three large transmission lines already exist in an existing utility corridor, in a visually disturbed area, where viewer expectations for scenic integrity would be lower. This would lessen the overall visual impact to PCT users. Furthermore, Alternative 5 would avoid the Veluzat Motion Picture Ranch. However, Alternative 5 would create a large number of significant, unavoidable visual impacts to non-ANF lands along the route, including in the communities of Leona Valley and Agua Dulce.
The next best alternative from the standpoint of visual resources is Alternative 2, which would remove existing transmission line infrastructure from the top of Del Sur Ridge, thus improving the visual environment of ANF lands. However, Alternative 2 would still impact ANF lands from Mile 5.7 to 18.6.
Alternative 3 would have the generally same visual impacts as the proposed project in the Antelope Valley, ANF, and the Veluzat Motion Picture Ranch. It is preferred over the proposed project from a visual resource standpoint because it would avoid the taller, more visually obtrusive, lattice steel structures (double-circuit towers) in Santa Clarita, and instead would create an additional single-circuit transmission line with shorter towers in an existing utility corridor.
Alternative 4 would generally have the same visual impacts as the proposed project in the Antelope Valley, ANF, and Santa Clarita. It is preferred from a visual resource standpoint over the proposed project, because it avoids the Veluzat Motion Picture Ranch.
The proposed project would result in significant increases in visual contrasts, including increased structure prominence, increased skyline blockage, and increased scale dominance of industrial-character structures in the Antelope Valley, ANF, and Santa Clarita. The only alternative that has greater visual prominence and greater disturbance to the visual environment is Alternative 1, with its partial under-grounding on top of Del Sur Ridge and in Santa Clarita.
The underground section of Alternative 1 on ANF lands would create visually prominent, permanent landform and vegetation disturbances on Del Sur Ridge, and would result in visually unacceptable modifications to the National Forest landscape. Alternative 1 would have all the same visual impacts and disadvantages as the proposed project in the Antelope Valley, in the Veluzat Motion Picture Ranch, and in Santa Clarita.
B. Impacts on Forest Management
The Final EIR/EIS reports that the proposed project could have certain unmitigable significant impacts on forest management activities, in particular, on wildland fire suppression and fire prevention. The Final EIR/EIS, at pages C.7-1 through C.7 -34, provides a discussion of the potential effects the proposed project and alternatives could have on forest management activities. Impacts to these activities were key concerns brought up by the ANF and became a part of the ANF's objectives for the project. The Final EIR/EIS evaluates the proposed project's potential to cause wildland fires (thus impacting forest management activities), to increase safety risk to firefighters and adjacent communities, and to impact fire suppression and prevention activities with respect to both construction and operation activities of the project.
According to the ANF Fire Management Plan, the majority of the project area is within Fire Management Unit 2 - mid-elevation, non-wilderness where the fire regime associated with this vegetation type are:
· High intensity;
· Stand replacing in nature;
· Steep slopes and heavily bisected topography limiting control opportunities; and
· Mechanized equipment is restricted in many areas to the primary ridge systems.
Fires under typical weather patterns run to the ridge tops where changes in the alignment of the fire spread allow for successful suppression operations to be conducted. The density of the chaparral fuels, especially fuel beds older than 20 years, reduces the effectiveness of aerial suppression actions as retardant and water is less efficient at penetrating the canopy and affecting the surface fuels.
Four jurisdictions within the project area could be impacted by a wildland fire and affect forest management activities. A description of the fire history and characteristics of each jurisdiction is provided at page C.7-2 of the Final EIR/EIS.