Two La Grande groups have filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to block the proposed Boardman-to-Hemingway power transmission line, which would run through Baker and Union counties.
The Stop B2H Coalition and Greater Hells Canyon Council filed the suit Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Pendleton.
The plaintiffs contend the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service, which have authorized the proposed 293-mile, 500-kilovolt transmission line, failed to adequately review the potential environmental and other effects of the power line that Idaho Power Company wants to build.
The B2H project is undergoing a multi-year review through the Oregon Department of Energy. Idaho Power, which is partnering with PacifiCorp and the Bonneville Power Administration, hopes to start building the line in 2023.
Jim Kreider of La Grande, co-chairperson of the Stop B2H Coalition, said Thursday that the group filed the lawsuit because of a pending legal deadline to challenge the BLM’s authorization of the proposed route.
The BLM’s Record of Decision for B2H was signed on Nov. 17, 2017. Kreider said legal challenges to that decision must be filed within two years.
“We had until this Friday to do something,” Kreider said. “The clock was running out.”
He said the Stop B2H Coalition had sought to avoid litigation by sending a letter to the BLM on Oct. 2 asking the agency to write a supplemental environmental impact statement that takes into account information about the possible effects of the power line that the Coalition has gathered since 2017.
That letter reads, in part, “New information available since the (environmental impact statement) and (Record of Decision) were issued shows that the IPC (Idaho Power) cannot justify its ‘need’ for the B2H Project, and therefore it is unreasonable that BLM allow the project to proceed.”
Kreider said the Coalition didn’t receive a response from the BLM.
“The only thing we could do was file litigation to keep this alive,” he said, referring to the Coalition’s challenge to the BLM’s 2017 decision.
A lawsuit was not the group’s preferred option, Kreider said.
“Going to court’s going to cost us a lot of money,” he said.
The plaintiffs, who include Kreider and his wife, Fuji Kreider, who live less than half a mile from the proposed power line route, and Gail Carbiener of Bend, a member of the Oregon-California Trails Association, are represented by Portland attorneys David H. Becker, Oliver J. H. Stiefel and Maura C. Fahey.
Idaho Power is not a defendant in the lawsuit.
The defendants are the BLM, Theresa Hanley, the agency’s acting state director for Oregon and Washington, the Forest Service and Tom Montoya, supervisor of the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest.
Jordan Rodriguez, a communications specialist for Idaho Power, said the company does not have a specific response to the lawsuit since the company is not a defendant.
“B2H remains an important priority for Idaho Power as we continue toward our goal of providing 100% clean, renewable energy by 2045,” Rodriguez said. “We are continuing to work through the permitting process.”
In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs contend that Idaho Power’s current proposed route near La Grande is different from the route listed during the BLM’s review prior to the agency’s decision.
“There has been a lot of new information about the project’s likely destructive impacts on Eastern Oregon,” Kreider said. “We are trying to prevent catastrophic damage to our public and private lands by an out-of-state corporation which prioritizes profits for its shareholders.”
The plaintiffs also claim that the BLM’s 2017 decision fails to take into account more recent data about declining populations of sage grouse in Baker County.
The lawsuit also cites potential public safety hazards along the proposed route, including plans to erect towers on unstable slopes, and creating excessive noise near homes, recreation areas and campgrounds.
The plaintiffs cite concerns that Baker County opponents to B2H have expressed since the power line was first proposed more than a decade ago — that the power line, and its towers up to 170 feet tall, would mar views from the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center.
The Center, which opened in 1992, is managed by the BLM and has attracted more than 2.3 million visitors.
Critics tried to persuade the BLM to require Idaho Power to bury the line near the Interpretive Center. The current proposed route would run the power line between the Interpretive Center and Interstate 84, along the route of an existing power line that crosses Highway 86 on Flagstaff Hill, about three miles east of Baker City.
Other issues cited in the lawsuit include:
• Wildfire danger. The lawsuit reads: “The (environmental impact statement) also did not take a ‘hard look’ at the risk of wildfire damage from the B2H transmission line. Significant new information, including the November 2018 Camp Fire in Paradise, California, that resulted in 85 fatalities and which was sparked by power transmission lines.... illustrates the potential danger....”
• Mill Creek alternative route, which is within 2,000 feet of the La Grande city limits. The lawsuit reads: “The (environmental impact statement’s) discussion of geologic hazards and slope instability... does not disclose sufficient information about potential dangers... Significant new information, much of it developed in the (Oregon facility siting process) where Idaho Power first disclosed some of the likely impacts, shows that the geologic hazards and slope instability of the proposed transmission line near La Grande pose greater threats to human safety than disclosed in (the environmental impact statement).”