Transmission Lines to Skirt Local Valleys
by Larry Meyer
Argus Observer, March 10, 2010
ONTARIO -- Malheur County and other valley residents heard Tuesday what they have been wanting to hear: The recommended routes for a major power transmission line from Idaho Power, from northeast Oregon to southwest Idaho, skirts the Malheur and Snake River valleys and takes in more public lands.
However, the siting process is far from complete.
Conducting the next to the last advisory team meeting in Ontario, Idaho Power officials and project consultants presented the recommended alternatives, explaining why they were chosen and other suggested routes were excluded.
Routes suggested across the region, during public mapping sessions, were evaluated according to high permitting difficulty, construction difficulty and mitigation costs, among other considerations. Proposed routes through the Snake River Valley, which include those through the farmland around Adrian, Nyssa and Ontario, as well as communities in Canyon, Payette and Washington counties, were determined to be unreasonable because of high permitting difficulty.
"We don't think they can be permitted due to EFU (Exclusive Farm Use) standards," Dave Perry, Tetra Tech consultant working with Idaho Power on the siting process, said.
He noted that crossing EFU land is permissible under Oregon law only if all possible alternatives have been exhausted. Irrigated agriculture was also sited as a primary reason for the rejected routes on the Idaho side.
The proposed westerly route crosses into Malheur County south of Adrian and crosses the hills over to the northwest corner of Harney County, to Grant County, and then up to Morrow County and on up to Boardman. "This is the shortest route," Perry said.
Other alternatives stay in the Malheur, Baker, Union and Umatilla counties before ending up in Boardman, in Morrow County.
Those attending the advisory team meeting were asked to provide comments on the recommended routes or e-mail them to the company. Idaho Power wants to submit its revised application, with the proposed route, for the National Environmental Policy Act process at the end of March or early in April. The environmental review will be led by the Bureau of Land Management for all federal lands.
In response to the recommended routes, Roger Findley, co-chair of Stop Idaho Power, which has pressured the company to move its proposed routing out of the valley areas in Malheur County, said SIP is "guardedly optimistic" about the decision to put the B2H route on BLM land.
"SIP has suggested for over a year this is where it should go," Findley said.
Noting the community advisory process has ended, Findley said, in a statement released at the CAP meeting, "There are two general outcomes from NEPA. First, the route will be accepted by all parities, and that is where the route will go. Or, second, the route will be contested by one of the parties involved through lawsuits, and the routes may end back up on private agricultural land."
While SIP is hoping for the best case, Findley said the worst case could happen, and he urged Stop Idaho Power members to be diligent and be prepared to participate in the process to make sure the transmission line does not cross exclusive farm use land in Malheur County.
"Until towers are constructed and lines are strung on them, we do not know for sure where this will end up," he said.
Findley said the Oregon Public Utilities Commission is also planning another needs hearing on the proposed transmission line in Ontario but did not have the exact date.
Kent McCarthy, Idaho Power, said the Bonneville Power Administration and PacifiCorp, parent company of Pacific Power and Light, have expressed interest in participating in the transmission line project for addressing their own capacity issues in the region, and BPA staff plans to make recommendations on its participation by the end of the month.
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