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Aug. 14, 2020

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BPA chief will explain decision on line

Washington officials ask why a route through Oregon was ruled out

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o Topic: A 500-kilovolt transmission line being proposed by the Bonneville Power Administration.

o Attending: All six elected commissioners of Clark and Cowlitz counties; BPA Administrator Steve Wright.

o Where: Clark County Events Center at the Fairgrounds, 17402 N.E. Delfel Road.

o When: 6:30 p.m. Nov. 4.

The head of the Bonneville Power Administration has agreed to attend a public meeting next month to explain why his agency has ruled out Oregon as a route for a new high-voltage transmission line.

Elected officials in Southwest Washington are feeling pressure from thousands of constituents worried about the effects on health and property values from a 500-kilovolt transmission line BPA is proposing to run between Castle Rock and Troutdale, Ore.

o Topic: A 500-kilovolt transmission line being proposed by the Bonneville Power Administration.

o Attending: All six elected commissioners of Clark and Cowlitz counties; BPA Administrator Steve Wright.

o Where: Clark County Events Center at the Fairgrounds, 17402 N.E. Delfel Road.

o When: 6:30 p.m. Nov. 4.

Dozens of segments are under consideration, but all run through Clark and Cowlitz counties.

County commissioners have pressed the BPA to reconsider an Oregon alternative, or at least hold a public meeting to explain why it has been ruled out.

“They need to reconsider Oregon,” Clark County Commissioner Steve Stuart said. “The majority of the power usage they’re projecting that these lines would satisfy is in Oregon and farther south.”

Stuart and all five fellow elected commissioners from Clark and Cowlitz counties wrote to BPA Administrator Steve Wright in August, urging him to host a series of meetings explaining why BPA ruled out an Oregon alternative. Wright responded with a letter on Sept. 30.

“Following extensive internal review, I made the decision that the (Oregon) options should be discarded from further consideration,” Wright wrote. “As the ultimate decision-maker for the project, I would like to personally attend a meeting such as you have proposed.”

Commissioners took him up on the offer.

On Friday, BPA officials said that Wright has agreed to attend a meeting set for 6:30 p.m. on Nov. 4 at the Clark County Events Center at the Fairgrounds.

All six commissioners of Clark and Cowlitz counties are also due to attend the public meeting.

Bonneville did consider a route from Longview to an existing BPA substation near Wilsonville, Ore., but dropped it last year after identifying too many environmental and technical obstacles.

BPA officials said the wide river crossing downstream from Longview would have required towers as tall as 400 feet, illuminated by strobe lights in sensitive wildlife habitat. Further, BPA had no existing workable rights of way in Oregon; by contrast, one of the agency’s alternatives in Washington parallels an existing 230-kilovolt line along Interstate 5. Finally, BPA officials say, they have no room to expand their Pearl substation in Wilsonville, whereas they do have room in Troutdale.

The project, financed by increased borrowing authority granted by Congress last year, is expected to cost about $400 million. The existing grid has become congested to the point that federal officials say they will need the new line by 2018 or risk blackouts.

Wright is due to make a final decision in 2012.

Given the urgency of the time line and the thorough study required for each alternative, BPA project manager Mark Korsness said during a public meeting at Skyview High School in August that it makes sense to focus on the most promising alternatives.

And those happen to be in Southwest Washington, he said.

Stuart said he is not convinced, and both county governments are prepared to fight to ensure an Oregon alternative is included in BPA’s formal environmental analysis.

“They have not fully vetted an Oregon alternative,” Stuart said. “It may take more money and time, but you’re going to pay now or pay later — because if you don’t do the process right, we will appeal.”

Erik Robinson: 360-735-4551, or erik.robinson@columbian.com.

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