The controversy on where to place 11 huge electrical towers – larger than any currently seen in the city – has ignited potential stakeholders who examine every nuance of the Bonneville Power Administration’s work. So it was odd that none of them attended Monday afternoon’s workshop where BPA representatives updated the Vancouver City Council on options they are considering for placement of the 150-foot transmission towers, which will slice through 70 miles of the urban or rural landscape.
BPA government affairs representative Liz Klumpp and I-5 corridor reinforcement project manager Mark Korsness provided an overview of the project and an update which established no decision has yet made on where to run the line.
The steel lattice structures are taller and heavier looking than “most of the ones you see around here,” said Korsness, distinguishing the behemoth structures as the ultimate not-in-my-backyard project for groups such as Another Way BPA, Citizens Against the Towers, and the Yale Valley Coalition.
According to Klumpp, before beginning this project the BPA searched for investments that could be made in the existing system, contracts that could be entered into, generators that could be added either north of the project (Castle Rock) or south of the project (Troutdale, Ore.), and basically excavated any alternative that would allow them to avoid construction.
Experts on the public regional board weighed in, potential stakeholders sang songs, and at the end BPA concluded there may be some investments that defer the energization date – but according to Liz Klump, “there’s no way we will not build this line.”
One issue remains: Where will the power line be located?
Four alternatives have emerged: The western alternative, the eastern alternative, a central and a crossover alternative.
Each differ in costs, number of residents who will be affected – up to 4,000 houses or 2000 acres of timber land. Other potential impacts being weighed are wetlands, historic properties and national register sites, archaeological sites, spotted owls, bald eagles and special status plant species, and whether or not the BPA already owns right of way or would need to purchase it.
It was clear the City Council was aware of the pressure the BPA has been under to not place the line in the rural area, but the council’s concern focused on the population it represents.
“To me it’s important that it not be encouraged at all in the densely populated areas,” said council member Jeanne Stewart.
Bart Hansen almost seemed surprised when he said, “I agree with council member Stewart,” then added “as far as looking at a more easterly route.”
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process was launched in the fall of 2009, but the draft environmental impact statement remains unfinished. Between now and 2015 extraordinary measures can be effective, but “by the time we get to 2016 these measures will no longer work, and we’ll run into blackouts,” warned Korsness.
This summer those affected will be easier to identify.
“Our goal is to make a decision about a preferred alternative by the draft EIS date, which is approximately June,” said Korsness. “I can honestly tell you we’re not leaning anywhere.
“It’s a very difficult decision to make.”
Data by alternative – Nov. 29, 2011
Data by segment – Feb. 3, 2012
Data sources and assumptions – Nov. 29, 2011