The discussion of — and the eventual vote for — mitigation should the Boardman to Hemingway transmission line project ultimately move forward was the primary

action item taken by the
La Grande City Council during its Wednesday night meeting.

The action, City Manager Robert Strope said in addressing the council, does not conflict with the city’s continued position of opposing the B2H project. Rather, the proposed mitigation — a term defined by Merriam-Webster as “the process or result of making something less severe, dangerous, painful, harsh, or damaging” — would give the city a possible fall-back option and an ability to negotiate a less damaging siting plan should the B2H project be approved.

Documents provided at Wednesday’s meeting explained that the Department of Energy, in its Draft Proposed Order, rejected the city’s submitted objections to the possible Mill Creek route for requested mitigation, but did accept the city’s requested conditions for H-frame towers instead of lattice towers in the Morgan Lake area should the Morgan Lake alternative route be chosen. DOE also rejected the city’s request for additional mitigation at Morgan Lake.

According to the document, Idaho Power has stated a willingness to agree to either providing “H-frames within the City viewshed for the Mill Creek route, instead of the currently proposed lattice structures if that route is selected, or provide $100,000 toward recreational improvements at Morgan Lake Park for the Morgan Lake route in lieu of H-frames near Morgan Lake, if that route is selected.”

The proposed agreement will not prevent or change the city’s opposition to the B2H project.

The discussion prior to the council’s 5-1 vote, however, did not come without concern, even by those who voted for the mitigation.

“The main question for me is does accepting the terms of a mitigation strategy reduce our negotiating leverage to stop B2H,” said Councilor Jim Whitbeck, who in the same breath conceded the city may not have a lot of leverage to begin with and later added, “We’re not really sacrificing anything (by voting for mitigation).”

Strope recommended the council vote for mitigation, saying he was worried voting against mitigation could in the long run hurt the city and any chances it would have to negotiate with Idaho Power should B2H be

He repeatedly stressed, though, that a vote for mitigation did not conflict with the city’s long-held position of opposition. Rather, it complements it.

“That does not preclude us from also doing action in parallel with opposition. We are just simply saying (that) for the structures this is what we want them to look like. At Morgan Lake we would prefer $100,000 to no money and the H-frames,” he said.

Council Nicole Howard likened the possible move to mitigation another way.

“(It’s like saying), ‘Please don’t hit me, but if you are going to hit me, hit me here, because it won’t hurt as much,’” she said. “There’s some merit to that. It might be a little idealistic to imagine that a principled position to say we don’t want this, we’re not going to play, could do more damage long term.”

The Stop B2H Coalition’s Jim Kreider, who spoke during the public comment portion of the discussion, encouraged the council to seek compensation from the DOE for consultants who could research the Draft Proposed Order, which could potentially give the city a greater bargaining chip in mitigation. He also warned that down the road, Idaho Power could potentially use mitigation talks as a “bait-and-switch,” saying they could try to later make the case that because of an agreement to take funding, the city was backing the project.

“Mitigation is somewhat like that. To a certain extent, if you accept the money, (people can say) you’re acknowledging the validation of the need of the transmission line,” Kreider said.

Mayor Steve Clements said he could see that concern, but countered that even if the council voted for mitigation, he knew it wasn’t supporting the B2H project.

“It’s hard for me to go that way because I’m trying to protect the interest of the city to have something in place if (B2H approval) happens,” he said. “I know personally that (even if we) accept this (mitigation) agreement, the city is still opposed to (B2H), though I can understand how Idaho Power or others would say, ‘Oh you’re accepting money, you must be for the idea in general.’”

Clements also said he hoped that, should the project move forward, Idaho Power would honor its word of being willing to work with the city.

Howard said she could see the benefit of reaching out for additional research.

“If what I’m hearing (from Kreider) is right and there are resources available to us that we haven’t availed ourselves to from DOE, we could learn something about the kind of mitigations we would want to present. When you sit down with Idaho Power, You would be coming to them with a potentially more thought out, more scientifically justified, more robust package,” Howard said.

But Strope explained that, with a July deadline looming, the potentially lengthy process could reduce the city’s negotiating time with Idaho Power.

“I don’t know what more you get at the end of the day (in the way of) the resources and capacity to do meaningful work to get that done in that short of a time frame,” Strope countered.

The vote ultimately fell 5-1 in favor of moving ahead with mitigation, with Howard voting nay. Councilor Justin Rock was not present at the meeting.

“I think we need to have a backup,” Councilor Mary Ann Miesner said. “We’re going to say no (to B2H), but if no isn’t what’s going to happen, I want to have a backup.”

In earlier action Wednesday evening, the council unanimously voted to adopt the Urban Renewal Agency Budget and the City of La Grande’s budget for 2019-2020. Both budgets were previously approved in May by the city’s budget committee.