The Bonneville Power Administration on Tuesday selected a preferred route for a new high-voltage transmission line that avoids populated residential areas. The selected route runs north of Castle Rock and stretches mostly through Weyerhaeuser Co. and state-owned timberlands in Southwest Washington.
This “central alternative” was one of four routes BPA considered for the 500-kilovolt line, which the agency says is necessary to meet growing regional demand for electricity. The estimated cost is $459 million, a little more than the mid range of the four options, which span from $385 million to $489 million.
Landowners blasted the BPA’s decision, saying the agency ignored their proposals to move the line into even more remote areas farther to the east.
“I think BPA wanted an easy way out. ... But I don’t think they picked the 100 percent best route,” said Terry Constance, a Clark County resident and chairman of Another Way BPA, a citizens’ group that has protested the line.
The preferred route is outlined in a 2,000-page environmental impact study the power marketer released Tuesday. The BPA will take public comment on the transmission line plan through March and make a final decision in 2014. By 2018, the BPA hopes the line will be transmitting power.
BPA officials said the 79-mile central alternative avoids populated areas by cutting through swaths of timberland. The agency said 327 homes are located within 500 feet of the preferred alternative, compared to more than 3,000 along an existing BPA transmission line that runs parallel to Interstate 5.
At the same time, the central alternative avoids some of the most environmentally sensitive areas along the route farthest to the east, BPA officials said.
The proposed route continues south to the border with Clark County, then cuts east across the Lewis River near Merwin Dam. The route then runs mostly through Weyerhaeuser Co. and state-owned timberlands in eastern Clark County before ending at Troutdale, Ore.
“The preferred alternative represents a healthy balance of our accountability to the region, particularly to those who participated in the public process; our responsibility to manage costs for regional ratepayers; our role as responsible environmental stewards and our goal of operating a reliable transmission system,” BPA Administrator Steve Wright said in a written statement.
BPA officials said they have not removed the other three routes from consideration, but they will focus on the central option.
“On balance, this appears to be the best on the table for us,” BPA spokesman Doug Johnson said Tuesday.
The agency received more than 4,000 public comments on the project, an unprecedented amount that has helped delay the report, BPA officials said. BPA officials first informed landowners they were considering building the line in the fall of 2009.
Without the line, the Southwest Washington corridor risks an increasing number of power outages, according to BPA. The agency plans to build new substations at both ends of the line at Castle Rock and Troutdale, Ore.
Hundreds of property owners in Southwest Washington have called for the BPA to build the line in less-populated areas that will affect the fewest number of landowners. Constance of Another Way BPA said the central alternative would run through property belonging to 114 landowners, and that’s too many.
“We won’t accept any impact to people on this project. We still think there are some changes that could be made,” he said.
The BPA had previously rejected two other options in low-populated areas that landowners promoted. One passed west of I-5 mostly through Oregon, and another ran mostly through the forestlands on the eastern edges of Cowlitz and Clark counties.
Weyerhaeuser Co. officials said a high-voltage power line would present “operational challenges” for their St. Helens Tree Farm operations. The company may need change harvesting practices or install a buffer zone around the towers to ensure the safety of workers, Weyerhaeuser spokesman Anthony Chavez said.
“We’re going to be very careful operating around the lines,” he said Tuesday.
Chavez added that Weyerhaeuser officials plan to continue meeting with the BPA to better understand the next steps.
A second landowners’ group, Amboy-based A Better Way for BPA, said the agency should have saved taxpayers millions by building the new line alongside the existing one, which parallels the interstate. BPA rejected that route because it affects the most landowners, the agency said.
“The central alternative was proposed by BPA in the middle of its process, and people affected by this project have had the least amount of time to react and comment,” members of A Better Way for BPA said in a written statement.
The BPA plans to hold six meetings before the end of the year to explain the preferred route. The first meeting will be held from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Dec. 4 at Castle Rock Elementary School.
In addition, the agency will hold six public hearings at the beginning of 2013 to take formal testimony on the project. Two will be held in Cowlitz County: 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Jan. 26 at Mark Morris High School in Longview, and 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Feb. 4 at Castle Rock Elementary School.