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May 31, 2020

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In Our View, Dec. 16: Productive Rally

Residents speak up, BPA listens and the power line discussion continues

The Columbian
Published:

When several dozen Clark County residents showed up at the Bonneville Power Administration’s headquarters on Monday to protest a proposed power line, their message included more than just the word “No.” It reflected the types of values that are admirable in any homeowner, and in any neighborhood. If all local residents thought so highly of their properties, this community — already a wonderful place to live and work — would be even better.

As Erik Robinson reported in Tuesday’s Columbian, the protesters voiced strong opposition to building a 500,000-volt transmission line through their neighborhoods. They insisted that — if the line had to be built — it should run down an Interstate 5 easement that already exists, or farther east in more rural country. Construction of the 70-mile line from Castle Rock to Troutdale, Ore., could begin in two or three years and be completed as early as 2015.

No one knows for sure what the final siting decision will be; the process is long and complicated. But already two conclusions can be drawn: Residents of Hockinson and other east county areas are doing a fine job of presenting their case, and BPA officials appear to be doing a good job of listening to their concerns. That this process will take so long is especially aggravating to property owners who must live under a cloud of doubt about property values and whether they’ll be forced to move. But at least everyone who wants to be heard is having ample opportunity to speak up.

To the credit of the local residents, several hundred attended six public hearings this fall and submitted more than 1,600 comments. As Robinson reported, that response is far heavier than has been typical with recent transmission upgrades in sparsely populated areas east of the Cascades.

To BPA’s credit, it has identified several possible routes, with a middle route running through Hockinson, but another possibility several miles to the east. And the power company is trying hard to answer every question. Project Manager Mark Korsness met with the residents at the Portland rally in a Lloyd district park across the street from the BPA headquarters. Also, general comments are still accepted online, and according to the BPA Web site, “If your question isn’t included (in the frequently asked questions) … (w)e will get your question to the right person and they will respond as soon as possible. We may include your question and the answer in FAQs updates.”

Although much of BPA’s outreach effort is required by law, the tone of the Web site indicates a genuine willingness to listen. For example: “We understand that property owners often do not want their property used for public infrastructure; the environmental process is designed to help us identify these concerns and to work to help avoid or minimize impacts on the man-made and natural environment as much as possible while maintaining the ability to provide low-cost, reliable power to the region and BPA ratepayers.”

That phrase starting with “while maintaining” deals with the greater public good, and in the end, some people — perhaps many — will hate the final decision.

Monday’s rally came on the last day of the scoping period, the first opportunity for public input. BPA had extended that deadline by three weeks. But it’s not the last period of citizen involvement. More public hearings and feedback opportunities will be presented when a draft environmental impact statement is published.

So far, the exchange has remained civil. We hope that continues. It’s easy to understand how vocal residents can become when the stakes are so high. More information is available at www.bpa.gov (click on I-5 Corridor Reinforcement Project) and at least one Web site organized by residents: case31.com

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