PENDLETON — The Oregon Energy Facility Siting Council will discuss the proposed Boardman to Hemingway (B2H) power transmission line, which would run through Baker County, when it meets next week at Pendleton.

The Council, which is reviewing Idaho Power Company’s application to build the 293-mile, 500-kilovolt line, will convene at 5 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 19, at the Red Lion Inn, 304 S.E. Nye Ave. The Council will reconvene there at 8 a.m. on Friday, Dec. 20.

Council members will discuss comments received on the draft proposed order authorizing construction of the line, which could start in 2023, as well as Idaho Power’s responses to those comments.

Two La Grande groups last month filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to block the B2H project. The plaintiffs, the Stop B2H Coalition and Greater Hells Canyon Council, contend the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service, which in 2017 approved a proposed route for the line, failed to properly review the potential environmental effects of the project.

Idaho Power is not a defendant in the lawsuit.

Baker County officials are among those who submitted written comments regarding the Council’s draft order released on May 22, 2019.

Among the topics county officials addressed are what they see are inadequate protections against the spread of noxious weeds resulting from the power line.

The county requested “assurance... that the spread of existing weed infestations is prevented.”

In its response, Idaho Power, referring to the county’s claim that the noxious weed protections are insufficient, describes the county’s contention as “inaccurate, unsubstantiated, and lacks specificity.” The noxious weed plan, Idaho Power writes, is “a highly developed plan with sufficient detail...”

County officials also argue that Idaho Power should be required to pay for a security bond, in place for 10 years after the line is built, to “secure its weed management obligations.”

Idaho Power officials refused the county’s request for a security bond, writing that the county’s request “assumes, without substantive evidence or specificity, that the implementation of Idaho Power’s Noxious Weed Plan will be ineffective.”

The Boise company had a similar response to Baker County’s comments regarding the potential visual effects of the power line.

The county writes that “Baker County is known for its scenic quality, and a 500 kV transmission line will be detrimental to those qualities, which will in turn harm both the Baker County tourism industry and the scenic qualities residents enjoy.”

In response, Idaho Power officials write: “Idaho Power respectfully disagrees with the county’s statement that a number of the resources in Baker County will be significantly impacted. Idaho Power analyzed potential impacts to scenic resources using a thorough, reasoned methodology developed by visual resources experts.”

County officials also contend that the draft order doesn’t require Idaho Power to do enough to reduce the risk of wildfires that could be sparked by crews building the line.

“Given the high fire risk and the minimal available public services, (Idaho Power) needs a more robust Fire Prevention and Suppression Plan,” county officials write.

In their response, Idaho Power officials write that the company would try to contract with private firefighting companies if it can’t reach an agreement with a public agency to provide firefighting response during construction.”

The Stop B2H Coalition also submitted extensive comments to the draft order, one of which questions whether Idaho Power has even justified the need for the power line under the Energy Facility Siting Council’s “Least Cost Plan Rule.”

Idaho Power officials dispute that claim, writing: “The commenter’s argument is incorrect as a matter of law and of fact.”

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