Wind and solar energy are not going away anytime soon, and neither is strong opposition in Northeast Oregon to the proposed Boardman to Hemingway power line.

This opposition was made clear at a hearing put on by the Oregon Department of Energy’s Energy Facility Siting Council Thursday evening in La Grande on the proposed 500-kilovolt, 300-mile transmission line that would run between Boardman and the Hemingway substation near Melba, Idaho. The Energy Facility Siting Council was seeking public input on the ODOE’s Proposed Draft Order, which specifies recommended routes.

About 200 people attended the 4-1/2 hour hearing and 37 spoke, almost all voicing strong objections to B2H, which would run through Union County and be financed by Idaho Power, the Bonneville Power Administration and PacifiCorp.

Many who spoke expressed fears about the fire danger the power line would pose, the environmental damage that would be done in the process of constructing it, and how its 100-to-180-foot towers would damage viewsheds.

“We can do better than this power line,” said Brian Kelly, of
La Grande.

Each person who spoke at the hearing was allotted seven minutes. Among those who exhibited passion during their presentations was Peter Barry, of La Grande.

Barry exhorted those who attended the hearing at the Blue Mountain Conference Center to keep fighting valiantly against B2H.

“Stand up and be heard. This is your choice. Stop this stupid plan,” Barry said.

He noted that the B2H power line would run through the middle of a 300-foot-wide area from which all timber had been removed.

“This will be a 300-mile clear-cut,” Barry said, adding that the negative reverberations would be felt for years to come. “It will have a horrible impact on our grandkids and their grandkids.”

JoAnn Marlett, of Baker City, said that the permanent and potentially negative impact B2H would have on this region must not be ignored.

“You (the people responsible for B2H) will be gone tomorrow, but we will be living with the effects for years,” Marlett said.

Adrienne Henderson, of La Grande, said the power line will not make Northeast Oregon a better place.

“It will give us no benefits, just problems,” she said.

The power line, according to information previously released by Idaho Power, will give it the capacity to carry increasingly high levels of electricity.

Several people who spoke at the hearing questioned whether Idaho Power will actually need this added capacity.

Sandy Ryman, of La Grande, said the B2H power line is not needed because the growth rate in the use of electricity in the United States is the lowest it has been in many decades. A number of others who spoke echoed her questions, noting that the use of electricity is not increasing despite population growth because people are becoming more efficient in how they use energy.

Bill DeLashmutt, of La Grande, the lone community member to speak in favor of B2H, also addressed efficiency. He contended that the proposed transmission line would allow Idaho Power to operate more effectively, helping it to keep its costs to consumers low. DeLashmutt said the price of electricity provided by Idaho Power is 25% below the national average.

DeLashmutt said that stopping B2H would be like asking you to drive with your emergency brake on, which wastes energy.

“Let’s allow Idaho Power to drive with its brakes off,” DeLashmutt said.

Throughout the hearing, concern was often expressed about B2H power lines igniting a fire. The possibility of this was shown last fall with the devastating Camp Fire, which destroyed the city of Paradise in Northern California. The fire was apparently started by power lines blown down by strong winds.

John Winters, of La Grande, noted that the La Grande area and Paradise share a number of fire risk factors and that Paradise receives about three times as much precipitation as Union County does.

“It makes no sense to invite an additional risk when we have plenty as it is,” Winters said.

Michael Rosenbaum, of La Grande, a member of a wildfire prevention committee, said the power line would put the community at risk because it is flanked by timber and grasslands and periodically receives strong summer winds. Rosenbaum said it would be important for Idaho Power to be willing to turn off its power in the event of a fire or high winds.

Rosenbaum was one of several people who recalled seeing the Rooster Peak Fire in August of 1973, which began between Perry and La Grande and came close to Grande Ronde Hospital before roaring south below Morgan Lake and threatening to enter La Grande.

“The fire endangered the entire town of La Grande,” said Lois Barry, of
La Grande.

John Anderson, of
La Grande, also has not forgotten the blaze.

“Rooster Peak can happen again. (B2H) is an unacceptable risk. Please consider the safety of La Grande,” Anderson told the Energy Facility Siting Council.

Joe Horst, who lives southwest of La Grande, said his home sits where the Rooster Peak fire roared through 46 years ago.

“It is a potential hazard, big time,” Horst said.

Gail Carbiener, of Bend, said he is worried about the potential of fires starting during the B2H construction process. Carbiener said he would like to see B2H crews have someone on duty watching for fires while work is being done and during off hours.

Carbiener, a member of the Oregon-California Trails Association, noted that the proposes B2H routes would pass over or near the Oregon Trail. Idaho Power has said in its proposal it will try to avoid damaging the Oregon Trail. Carbiener argued that the trail can only be protected if someone with firsthand knowledge of it is on site during construction.

“The trail is misrepresented on maps. We would need an expert on it,” he said.

Another B2H issue that came up concerns the routes Idaho Power is considering through La Grande. One, named the Mill Creek route, would be highly visible from La Grande, while a second, the Morgan Lake route, would be much less visible. Both are part of the Proposed Draft Order.

A number of people said the Mill Creek route would cause significant damage to the viewsheds in the Morgan Lake area.

“It would be the most impactful to La Grande,” said La Grande Mayor Steve Clements, regarding the effects of the Mill Creek route on the viewshed.

The mayor and the La Grande City Council passed a proclamation in April opposing having B2H come through the La Grande area.

Kerry Tweit, who lives in the Morgan Lake area, said one of the best things he likes about his home is the view it affords of the sunset. He said the proposed B2H plans call for a tower to be placed exactly at the point where he enjoys viewing sunsets each evening.

The proposed Mill Creek and Morgan Lake routes both call for towers that could be seen in the Morgan Lake area. This disturbs Susan Badger Jones, of La Grande, who said she has been enjoying taking walks at Morgan Lake for 30 years. She now fears that much of the beauty of the area would be lost because of the towers.

“While people will still be able to walk there, the quality of the experience will be greatly compromised,” she said.

Idaho Power announced last week that it would give the City of La Grande $100,000 to make improvements at Morgan Lake to help mitigate any problems B2H power lines would cause in the area. Ashley O’Toole, of La Grande, said this money would not make up for the damage B2H would cause.

“It would not make the towers go away,” he said.

Michael McAllister, of La Grande, said he would prefer the route recommended by the Bureau of Land Management because it would be less visible and cause less environmental damage. Also known as the Glass Hill Alternate Route, this route would come out of Ladd Canyon and run south of where the proposed Mill Creek and Morgan Lake routes are.

McAllister said power lines on the BLM’s preferred route would be less vulnerable to lightning strikes because they would follow a lower route. The Mill Creek and Morgan Lake routes by comparison follow more ridgelines. The BLM preferred route is not included in the Draft Proposed Order.

The application the Energy Facility Siting Council is now considering was submitted to it by the Oregon Department of Energy. The application was criticized at the meeting by Lois Barry, who questioned its accuracy. She noted that when discussing the Morgan Lake area, the application states there is only one lake, failing to mention Twin Lake, a 27-acre body of just west of Morgan Lake.

According to Barry, the application also states that vegetation will obscure B2H towers, which she said is unlikely considering the projected height of the towers.

“That is wishful thinking,” she said.

Thursday’s hearing was the third of five being conducted by ODOE’s Energy Facility Siting Council regarding B2H. The final two will be held June 26 at the Pendleton Convention Center and June 27 in Boardman in the Port of Morrow Riverfront Room. Each hearing will run from 4:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.