By Terri Harber
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has made tentative decisions about the future routing of the Boardman to Hemingway power line - and its decision about a local section of the project hasn't gladdened many Baker County residents.
It's because the environmentally preferred route is the one that travels west of the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center.
Called B2H for short, the local section of the 300-mile, 500-kilovolt transmission line would run across the front of the interpretive center and through its historic viewshed.
The interpretive center is five
miles east of Baker City and is considered an important Northeastern Oregon tourist destination.
It's a similar route to the one already occupied by a smaller-capacity 230 kilovolt line but the additional infrastructure isn't going to be a welcome sight.
"It's frightening," said Nancy Peyron of Baker City, who helped form the group Move Idaho Power, which opposes the company's preferred route.
The BLM intends to complete a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) about that route, called the "Flagstaff" alternative, and other proposed routes, perhaps before summer's end. This document was expected to be out this past winter.
The BLM suggested the line could be buried underground along the Flagstaff viewshed area so it doesn't alter the landscape.
Idaho Power doesn't see that as being the most financially responsible way to please the public. It would cost 10 times more to place the line below ground than to run it above ground, said Lynette Berriochoa, a spokesperson for the utility company.
Constructing each mile of the B2H transmission line would cost Idaho Power and its customers an average of $1.5 million.
The utility company prefers having the line run tightly to the east of the interpretive center along a route known as the "Proposed" route but, more often, as the "Red" route. It strays very little from the Interstate-84 corridor throughout Baker and Union counties.
Baker County residents dislike both of these local proposals, said Fred Warner Jr., Baker County Board of Commission chairman.
"The preference is to have it away from the (Baker) Valley," Warner said.
Another route, called "Timber Canyon," would swing many more miles to the east away from the I-84 corridor, beginning near Durkee. It would run northeast toward Lookout Mountain, across Highway 86, then snake northwest along the Wallowas near Keating Valley, until it approached the freeway corridor east of North Powder.
Timber Canyon avoids more of the core sage grouse habitat than the Red route, but is longer. The added length makes it cost-prohibitive for Idaho Power, Berriochoa said.
BLM designed the Timber Canyon route last year because of public outcry about the other two routes.
Peyron said at the time it was an "exciting" development but she didn't get too invested in the idea because it was just that - another proposal.
Alternatives have been evaluated by examining each route's inventory of wildlife, fisheries, vegetation, land use, visual resources, special designations, cultural resources and use of existing utility corridors, according to a written BLM statement.
"I want people to know this issue is still alive," Peyron said. "We need to stay vigilant."
She also pointed out that everyone residing in Baker County has a say in where the line runs through.
People need to make their opinions known at the right time and in the right way so they don't lose their standing as the planning process moves forward, she said.
"I think people should be encouraged to forward their comments to the BLM and participate in any additional public hearings," said Mark Bennett, county planning director.
He met with Idaho Power on Tuesday. Company representatives wanted to assure the county that they still preferred the eastern route - the one that won't run in front of the interpretive center.
The county will continue to push against the Flagstaff route as well as the Red route, which isn't especially popular, either.
Berriochoa noted that Idaho Power doesn't have the ultimate say about the routing - that belongs to the BLM.
"We felt pretty good about our proposed route," she said. "But it's complicated."
She also suggested that people keep abreast of the project and make their feelings known about it when the draft EIS is made available to the public later this year.
The project has been in planning stages for about five years. Idaho Power submitted a notice of intent to the Oregon Department of Energy in August 2008.
Idaho Power wants to increase capacity to accommodate future power demands. B2H would be beneficial to customers in Oregon and Idaho because the line would "create options and increase flexibility" in providing service, Berriochoa explained.
B2H would provide the entire region with better connectivity. The line would offer easier access to existing electricity supplies and postpone the need to build a new power plant - and that would keep rates more reasonable, she said.
The Bonneville Power Administration provides power to the Oregon Trail Electric Co-op, which sells it to its customers. The BPA won't need to pass along as many rate increases once B2H is complete, Berriochoa said.
See the B2H preferred routes and related map -including an interactive map - online at: www.boardman