LA GRANDE — People worried the Boardman to Hemingway transmission line project will ruin local views in the La Grande area received good news.
Jeff Maffuccio of Idaho Power told the Union County Board of Commissioners at its meeting Wednesday, Sept. 9, the company prefers the Morgan Lake route. The transmission lines would run south of the lake and not be visible until reaching the Morgan Lake recreation area. The alternative route is Mill Creek, which would be visible on La Grande’s south and west hillsides.
Maffuccio, Idaho Power’s facility siting coordinator, confirmed for Commissioner Paul Anderes the Mill Creek route was off the table for consideration.
Anderes on Thursday said he is pleased the Morgan Lake route would not hurt Grande Ronde Valley viewsheds as much as the Mill Creek route would.
“Is it perfect? Clearly not, but it would have less visual impact,” Anderes said.
Sven Berg, an Idaho Power spokesperson, said Thursday his company selected the Morgan Lake route after receiving extensive input from Union County residents who preferred it over the Mill Creek route because it would obstruct fewer viewsheds. Berg said Idaho Power strives to respond to public input.
There still is a chance, however, Idaho Power would go with the Mill Creek path. Berg explained the Oregon Department of Energy’s Energy Facility Sitting Council is examining the two routes to see if they meet state standards. Should the siting council determine both meet the standards, Idaho Power would select the Morgan Lake Route. But if the council concludes only Mill Creek does, then Idaho Power would have to go with it.
The Morgan Lake route would be part of Idaho Power and PacifiCorp’ plan for a 300-mile, 500-kilovolt line, running from Boardman to the Hemingway substation near Melba, Idaho. The transmission line would cost between $1 billion and $1.2 billion. Towers along the transmission line will be between 120-180 feet tall. Standard towers are 75-90 feet tall.
Those taller towers would be visible at Morgan Lake and in a portion of the area leading to it. Berg said these towers would be shorter than other B2H tower towers to make them less obstructive.
Joe Stippel, Idaho Power’s engineering project leader, also addressed the county board at the Wednesday work session. He said Idaho Power would begin installation of the transmission line in 2023 and expects the project would take three years. He said Idaho Power staff will begin meeting with affected landowners in 2021 to discuss right-of-ways.
“We are looking forward to seeing folks in person,” Stippel said.
Idaho Power is leading the effort to get the B2H line with the help of partner PacifiCorp. The project still needs approval from the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, Oregon’s Energy Facility Siting Council and the Oregon Public Utility Commission. The project has caused concern among the communities on the path of the transmission line and facings stiff opposition from the Stop B2H Coalition, a grassroots organization that claims 800 members.
Fuji Kreider, secretary and treasurer of the coalition, updated the board of commissioners about the progress of a lawsuit the organization and the Greater Hells Canyon Council filed in 2019 in federal court in Portland. The lawsuit alleges the Bureau of Land Management violated the National Environmental Policy Act approving the Boardman to Hemingway transmission line and asks the BLM prepare a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement.
A brief for the lawsuit was filed Sept. 3 stating in October 2019, Stop B2H and GHCC formally asked the BLM to conduct a supplemental study but received no response.
A major violation of the policy act, according to Kreider, is the public never had an opportunity to exercise its rights under NEPA to offer public comment regarding the new routes.
The federal court could hold a hearing on the matter in January 2021.
Jim Kreider, co-coordinator of Stop B2H with Irene Gilbert, in a news release after Wednesday’s work session said he wished this litigation was not necessary.
“We really had hoped that this lawsuit could have been prevented and the federal agencies would have done the right thing and conducted a supplemental EIS,” according to the press release. “We are all volunteers and going to court takes a lot of time and resources. But we cannot let Idaho Power, the land use agencies, or the energy regulators, take advantage of that fact. Our coalition is strong and growing.”