Where to put B2H?

By Baker City Herald Editorial Board May 17, 2013 08:30 am

No matter where Idaho Power Company routes its new power line through Northeastern Oregon — and we have no doubt the 500-kilovolt line will be built — some people will be mad.

A major power line pretty much defines the concept of NIMBY — Not In My Backyard. The trouble, of course, is that every place is someone’s backyard, whether or not that’s literally true.

Idaho Power’s proposed Boardman-to-Hemingway project (B2H) has gone through several permutations since the Boise company proposed it six years ago.

One early route, which ran the power line through the western part of Baker Valley, was quickly, and rightfully, deleted. Building the line there would have marred the iconic view of the Elkhorn Mountains.

The company later considered alternative routes that would have avoided Baker County altogether and run instead to the south and west through Malheur and Grant counties.

That longer route has also been shelved, which is hardly surprising because it’s longer, and Idaho Power estimates the B2H line will cost an average of $1.5 million per mile.

The main local issue now is the power line’s proximity to the BLM’s Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, which is about five miles east of Baker City.

The newest maps from BLM — which in addition to operating the Interpretive Center is conducting the environmental analysis of the B2H line’s possible effects — show two possible routes near the Center.

Although these are preliminary maps — BLM will unveil a draft version of its environmental impact statement later this year — we’re troubled that the agency describes the route nearest the Interpretive Center as the “environmentally preferred alternative.”

That route runs to the west of the Center, between it and Baker Valley.

We prefer the other route, which would put the B2H line east of the Interpretive Center, where it would not infringe on the view of Baker Valley and the Elkhorns from the Center. The easterly route also would be less likely to affect irrigated agricultural ground.

This route is complicated by the presence of sage grouse breeding areas, but Idaho Power officials have known this from the start and we’re confident they can mitigate the possible effects on sage grouse.