BPA responds to Herrera Beutler letter on power line

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter

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Bonneville Power Administration head Stephen Wright last month reiterated his decision to focus on Washington — not Oregon — in routing a planned high-voltage transmission line to bolster the Northwest power grid.

Wright wrote a letter again detailing his rationale in response to an inquiry in June from Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas. The congresswoman had echoed the concerns of some Clark and Cowlitz county neighborhoods that find themselves in the path of one of four proposed routes between Castle Rock and Troutdale, Ore.

“I will continue to urge you to build the line across as little private property as possible and as far east and away from population centers as possible,” Herrera Beutler wrote.

Those questions have been hotly debated since 2009, when officials first started crafting plans for the 500-kilovolt transmission line. Wright said last year that a possible route through Oregon to a BPA substation in Wilsonville, Ore., was dropped because of too many logistical and environmental obstacles. Those include a much wider crossing of the Columbia River near Longview, compared with the proposed Washington routes that cross the river near Camas. Such a route would also require taller towers and the clearing of wildlife-designated land, according to Wright.

In May, the BPA identified four routes that stretch through different parts of Clark and Cowlitz counties, ranging from a “west alternative” that comes near Vancouver to an “east alternative” that runs east of Yacolt and continues down the eastern edge of Clark County. Citizens opposed to those plans laid out a so-called “gray line” that would push the transmission line even farther north and east.

Herrera Beutler asked in her letter about that possibility, crossing the Lewis River to the east of Yale Lake. Wright maintained that the BPA’s four original routes are still planners’ main focus, but other options are also being considered.

“I am very aware of the concerns of many of your constituents about potential effects on their property,” Wright wrote. “BPA must consider the full range of human and environmental impacts of route alternatives.”

A draft environmental impact statement of the project is due out by the end of 2011, BPA spokesman Doug Johnson said this week. Once released, that document will kick off another round of public comment.

Before that happens, the BPA will compile a full count of houses along the proposed routes — another request of Herrera Beutler’s. That count could be completed by the end of September, Johnson said.

Herrera Beutler’s letter wasn’t the first time she’s been in touch with the BPA on the I-5 Corridor Reinforcement Project, Johnson said. The federal utility worked with her while she still served in the Washington Legislature, before she was elected to Congress in 2010. Herrera Beutler and Wright also met in person earlier this year.

“We’ve been talking to her and her staff for some time,” Johnson said.

The cost of the transmission line was originally pegged at $340 million, though that will vary depending on which route is chosen. Construction could begin in 2013, with the project finished in 2015.

Eric Florip: 360-735-4541 or eric.florip@columbian.com.