County balks at B2H route

By Terri Harber December 06, 2013 09:50 am

Commissioners also revise Second Amendment resolution forwarded by Baker County Republican Central Committee

S. John Collins / Baker City Herald Concerns remain about how a proposed power transmission line would affect views around the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, which is in the upper right of the photo.
S. John Collins / Baker City Herald Concerns remain about how a proposed power transmission line would affect views around the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, which is in the upper right of the photo.

By Terri Harber

This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

Baker County Commissioners heard an update about the Boardman to Hemingway, B2H, transmission line project Wednesday.

Focus of the presentation was showing how the power line might look to people viewing different sections along alternative routes from a variety of distances.

The local section of the 300-mile, 500-kilovolt line would run just west of the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center — between the Center and Baker Valley — if the BLM proposal made this past spring continues to advance.

That’s also the environmentally preferred route and would be close to the route of an existing 230-kilovolt line.

The Interpretive Center is five miles east of Baker City and an important tourist destination. The idea of additional infrastructure near the center hasn’t been warmly welcomed by the community.

Commissioner Mark Bennett said the needs of the entire population along the route aren’t being taken into account, that biological interests are overrepresented.

“Community and social needs -- 10th place. There’s not a balance here,” Bennett said. “We want to see a larger percentage of (the power line) on federal ground.”

After Bennett voiced additional concerns, Don Gonzalez, head of the BLM’s Vale District, spoke.

“We have to look at concerns and every quirk,” Gonzalez replied. 

Gonzalez said he also prefers to see more of the project going through federal land, but he said concerns about protecting sage grouse, which is a candidate for federal protection, could make that difficult.

 “We don’t want to repeat the (Northern spotted) owl situation,” Gonzalez said.

The listing of the owl as a threatened species in 1990 contributed to a major decline in logging in Western Oregon forests.

Ranchers and others worry that federal protection for the sage grouse could lead to cutbacks in livestock grazing on federal land in Eastern Oregon, including Baker County.

There will be a series of public hearings next month about the possible listing of sage grouse. Baker County Events Center, 2600 E St., will be the site of the local event on Jan. 9 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.  

Bennett also talked about how the clearance area along the B2H route most likely would be wider in some areas than being discussed currently. The towers would require much more land around them, he said.

The draft Environmental Impact Statement for B2H should be out in March 2014. It will include material illustrating the possible environmental effects for all alternatives analyzed.

There will be public meetings during the spring as part of the 90-day public comment period scheduled to commence in March.

More public comment is expected when the project’s final Environmental Impact Statement is scheduled for release in April 2015.

The Oregon Department of Energy is reviewing Idaho Power’s preliminary Application for Site Certificate.

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 the BLM.

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 also said.

The Bonneville Power Administration provides power to Oregon Trail Electric Co-op. BPA also would benefit from the arrangement and possibly would not pass along as many rate increases to OTEC customers.

Second Amendment resolution

Commissioners approved a resolution supporting the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which focuses on citizens’ rights to bear arms.

It’s not exactly the same resolution presented to them by the Baker County Republican Central Committee in November, however.

Commissioner Tim Kerns opposed a recommended passage protecting assault weapons under the Second Amendment.

Kerns also expressed dismay about high-volume ammunition magazines.

Neither are truly necessary in the community Baker County officials serve, Kerns said. Hunters out shooting squirrels would only “waste ammo” using such equipment, he said.

“Hunting firearms are not assault weapons,” Bennett concurred. 

Kyle Knight, treasurer of the Baker County Republican Central Committee, said the committee wanted the resolution to include a clause that the county would not support any new proposed gun control laws.

“You would enforce turning in all our rifles?” Knight asked. 

“I’m not going to reject any (possible gun law) until I hear from all our constituency,” Commission Chairman Fred Warner Jr. replied. 

“I believe in democracy.  The minority doesn’t rule. I will do something as dictated  by Baker County residents,” Warner said.

Warner and Bennett voted to approve the commissioners’ version of the resolution, which included the statement that hunting rifles shouldn’t be classified as “assault weapons” but did not include the Central Committee’s recommended clause about opposing any new gun law.

Kerns abstained.

Knight said during the meeting that “this is a start.” On Thursday, however, he sent out an email using stronger language against the commissioners.

He stated that he found their decision to rewrite the Republican Central Committee’s resolution “disappointing and shocking.”