Cassia Co. residents oppose Idaho Power plan

By Damon Hunzeker
Times-News writer

 

BURLEY – If you think your farm or the view from your property would benefit from massive, high-voltage towers of power, the Gateway West Transmission Line Project should be an improvement. Most people, though, aren’t excited about it.

About 300 Cassia County residents packed Burley High School’s Little Theater Monday afternoon and for more than two hours fiercely opposed the project planned by Idaho Power and Rocky Mountain Power that detractors said would compromise the integrity of private property in the area.

The Gateway West proposal comprises a high-voltage line costing nearly $2 billion that would extend from a substation near Glenrock, Wyo. to another station near Melba.

County, state and federal officials attended the meeting, including representatives from the offices of Idaho’s congressional delegation, but most of the debate was limited to private citizens in the area and representatives of the power companies.

Construction is expected to begin in 2011, and portions of the project are scheduled to be complete by 2014.

It won’t be easy, though, judging by the prevailing opinions of people assembled at Monday’s meeting.

Nearly 60 miles of transmission lines would run through private property in Cassia County.

Brent Stoker, of the local group Move It!, said Idaho Power needs to find an alternate route, preferably on public land north of the Snake River.

“Do what needs to be done or we will lock horns again,” Stoker said.

He provided a heavily researched presentation that addressed myriad concerns about the project, ranging from health issues and reduced property values to the disparity between the treatment of sage grouse and property owners.

The towers are required to be 150 feet from homes but 3,432 feet from sage-grouse leks.

“Children versus sage grouse,” Stoker said.

With the exception of Dile Monson, the head of Burley’s electrical department, nobody in the audience spoke in favor of the project.

“I understand nobody wants a power line in their backyard,” Todd Adams, of Idaho Power, said. “I’ve been to about 20 meetings and I’ve yet to see anyone say, ‘Pick me.’ That being said, you can’t build 1,150 miles of power lines without going through somebody’s property.”

Because the power companies are quasi-government agencies, they retain the legal power to condemn property.

Dan Olmstead, of Idaho Power, insisted Eminent Domain would only be invoked as a last resort.

“We would do everything we could to negotiate,” he said.

Property owner Lynn Steadman asked a question that appeared to be on everyone’s mind.

“How are you going to get around all of us if we all refuse to let you through?” he said.

Heavy applause followed. Rep. Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, asked people to refrain from applauding and to “be respectful of our friends from Idaho Power.”

As for the question, Adams answered, “I don’t know.”

While an alternative to building the line would be a return to relying on fire for light and heat, it probably won’t happen.

“None of us want to live in caves,” Rep. Steve Hartgen said, “but it should be skewed toward putting this project on public land … There is no project in America that can’t be altered with strong public opinion.”

Bedke had to end the meeting after nearly an hour and a half of public comment.

“You can kind of see how it took us so long to get through this last legislative session,” he said.

A couple more people spoke, anyway, including landowner Kent Searle.

“We’ve got to put the brakes on. We’ve got to deny you access to our property,” he said.

Damon Hunzeker may be reached at dhunzeker@magicvalley.com or 208-677-8764.

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