Wednesday, January 16, 2008

County requests meeting on power line proposal

Commissioners want to clarify concerns with $800 million project

Express Staff Writer

Blaine County Commissioners are requesting a meeting with representatives of NorthWestern Energy, an investor-owned utility headquartered in Sioux Falls, S.D., to discuss the company's proposal to build a 500-kilovolt power transmission line between Montana and southeast Idaho.

Portions of the transmission line, called the Mountain States Transmission Intertie, could pass through southeastern Blaine County if the federal government approves the project.

The commission is requesting the meeting so company representatives can clarify a number of issues related to the $800 million project, which would include up to 35 miles of power line passing through the county.

Among the routes the company is considering, the most controversial would have the power line hug the northwestern boundary of Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve before passing west of Carey.

During a public meeting in Hailey on Tuesday, Blaine County Commissioner Larry Schoen presented his fellow commissioners with a draft letter he's written to be sent to NorthWestern Energy. The letter includes questions Schoen said the utility needs to answer, including whether it has power of eminent domain to condemn private property along the proposed route and how many properties in the county could be impacted by the project.

The commissioners are also asking that the utility clarify the process by which the U.S. Bureau of Land Management will make its decision on the project, much of which would pass over land managed by the agency.

"We understand you look to make decisions on your preferences and bring this process into a BLM environmental impact study by March 2008," the commissioners write. "Consequently, we request this meeting to be held at your earliest convenience."

In other county news:

 On Tuesday, the County Commission discussed the county's position on a proposal by Ketchum-based Idaho Tower Co. to construct a 90-foot-tall cellular tower northwest of Ketchum near Galena Summit. A decision on the proposal by Sawtooth National Forest Supervisor Jane Kollmeyer could happen by February.

County Commissioner Tom Bowman said he recently sent Kollmeyer the county's wireless ordinance, which limits cellular towers to 40 feet tall. He said he also discussed the option of constructing a network of shorter cellular towers to eliminate the need for taller towers like the one proposed for Galena Summit.

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