Friday, July 9, 2010

The Boardman to Hemmingway Transmission Line

Idaho Power Company wants to build a high voltage electric line through northeast Oregon. The 500 kilovolt electric transmission line would run from Boardman, Oregon to the Hemmingway Substation near Melba, Idaho. The towers would stand about 100 to 200 feet tall. They are the massive, metal-lattice towers similar to those that you see near the dams on the Columbia River.

The line would more or less run parallel to Interstate 84 through eastern Oregon and it would stretch about 300 miles long. East of Pendleton, it would cross the Blue Mountains and the Grande Ronde River and then cross Ladd Canyon south of La Grande. It would enter the Baker Valley near the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, stretch south between the Elkhorn and Wallowa Mountains and then follow part of the Burnt River south into Malheur County.

Many local people object to the visual impact that the line would have upon the scenery as well as negative effects on tourism, property values, farming and ranching practices and ecological concerns. HCPC’s concerns include the loss of wildlife habitat, disruption of habitat connectivity, cutting down of forests, the spread of non-native weeds, increased use of herbicides to maintain line clearance and the negative impacts of road-building. Part of the proposed route is home to sage grouse and known sage grouse leks.

According to my math, this power line will affect quite a bit of Oregon. The proposed right-of-way would be 250 feet wide. This means that more than 30 acres of land per linear mile would be affected. Multiply that by 300 miles of length and you have more than nine thousand acres of land affected.

HCPC has been cooperating with local groups and individuals who share our concerns about the project. We are participating in the lengthy process of review and permitting that is involved with the transmission line proposal. In April of this year, I testified to the Oregon Public Utilities Commission about the adverse impacts to wildlife habitat. Other residents voiced their concerns as well.

Idaho Power recently finished a “Community Advisory Process” to select the route for the transmission line. They will now seek approval from the Oregon Public Utility Commission and the Oregon Department of Energy. The Bureau of Land Management will also prepare an Environmental Impact Statement to address the impacts to BLM and US Forest Service lands affected by the proposed project.

Idaho Power is hosting public information meetings in La Grande on July 14 from 4 to 7 PM at the Blue Mountain Conference Center (404 12th St.) and in Baker City on July 20 from 4 to 7 PM at the Community Event Center (2600 East St.).

HCPC will continue to question the need for this project and to advocate for protection of this unique and important landscape.

Story and photo by Brian Kelly, Restoration Coordinator

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