BPA delays release of analysis of proposed transmission line

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter


Updated: November 10, 2011, 7:41 PM


Public meeting

What: Update on a proposed 500-kilovolt transmission line.

When: 6 to 9 p.m. Dec. 8.

Where: Battle Ground Community Center, 912 E. Main Street.

More information: Bonneville Power Administration.

Citing an “unprecedented volume” of public comments, the Bonneville Power Administration announced it will take more time to weigh its options for a proposed 500-kilovolt transmission line through Clark and Cowlitz counties.

The project’s draft environmental impact statement will now be released in spring 2012, according to the BPA. The agency had planned to release the document before the end of this year.

Multiple Clark County citizen groups — along with U.S. Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, plus Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler — had asked for that delay. The document’s release kicks off a finite public comment period, and the groups argued that waiting until after the holiday season gives people a better chance to chime in.

“That was just a bad idea, to send it out at that time,” said Terry Constance, who chairs the citizen group Another Way BPA.

The BPA first floated the 500-kilovolt transmission line project in 2009 as a way to move power more easily through a strained Northwest grid and accommodate future growth and capacity. Project planners have focused on four main route options for the line between Castle Rock and Troutdale, Ore., plus several other variations based on them. But the plan has drawn plenty of heat from residents with health and property concerns.

The project’s cost has been estimated at about $340 million, though the final price tag will depend on where the line is put. Construction could begin as soon as 2013.

Delaying the draft impact statement’s release won’t set back the overall timeline of the project, said BPA spokesman Doug Johnson. But a few key questions about the document remain unclear — Johnson said BPA hasn’t determined whether a preferred route will be identified when the impact statement comes out next year. The agency also hasn’t decided whether to formally include the proposed “Grey Line” — putting the transmission line farther north and east than any of the BPA’s alternatives — some citizens have crafted and pushed for.

Johnson did say BPA is “still looking” at that possibility.

The BPA also announced an upcoming public meeting in Battle Ground to offer an update on the project and collect more feedback. The meeting will begin at 6 p.m. Dec. 8 at the Battle Ground Community Center, 912 E. Main Street. By that time, the BPA will also have more information about smaller “non-wire” fixes that could delay the need for a new transmission line while still easing the Northwest power grid.

The forum offers residents a good chance to catch up on what’s been happening on the project, said Cheryl Brantley, who helps lead the citizen group A Better Way for BPA. Though thousands of urban or rural homeowners sit near one of the possible lines, Brantley said not everyone is fully aware of the project.

“I’m glad to see that they’re doing the meeting and getting people up to speed,” she said.

Said Johnson: “We want to listen as much as we talk.”

Eric Florip: 360-735-4541; www.twitter.com/col_enviro; eric.florip@columbian.com.