Wednesday, September 15, 2010

No power line through Carey area

Final route yet to be decided

Express Staff Writer

Graphic courtesy of NorthWestern Energy A map shows the various routes proposed for the Mountain States Transmission Intertie. All alternatives converge into one before the route crosses far-southern Blaine County.

A controversial power transmission line proposed by NorthWestern Energy will run through Blaine County, though not through the Carey area as previous proposals had indicated.

The Sioux Falls, S.D.,-based energy company's project manager, Tom Pankratz, updated Blaine County commissioners on the status of the proposed 500-kilovolt line, called the Mountain States Transmission Intertie, during the commission's regular meeting Tuesday.

The line is proposed to run nearly 400 miles through southwestern Montana and eastern Idaho.

No fewer than seven alternative routes exist between the line's proposed origin in Townsend, Mont., and its terminus at Midpoint substation south of Shoshone. However, there are no alternatives to the line's proposed route through Blaine County.

Twenty to 25 miles of power line would stretch through Blaine County's far-southern extension to the east and south of Craters of the Moon National Monument before traveling west to the Midpoint substation.

The power line project came under fire three years ago when a proposed alternative route would have taken 30 to 35 miles of the line through Carey and some private ranchlands before heading southwest along U.S. Highway 26 to Shoshone.

NorthWestern Energy's new proposal definitively takes this route off the table.

The final or even preferred route for the entire transmission line has yet to be approved, Pankratz said, and will not be decided until the Bureau of Land Management completes a draft environmental impact statement for the project.

"We're as anxious as anyone to see the draft EIS come out," Pankratz said. "We do not get to choose what the preferred route will be."

Pankratz said the proposed route is in a county-designated "utilities corridor," and parallels an existing power line completely within public lands.

Tom Bergin, director of Blaine County Land Use and Building Services, said that if the line does cross private property, NorthWestern Energy would need to purchase easements and obtain county conditional-use permits before construction.

NorthWestern Energy representatives have stated that existing transmission lines in the area are not enough to serve growing demand.

The public will be invited to comment on the plan when a draft EIS is released, said Pankratz, and public meetings will be held to provide a forum for discussion. Pankratz also promised the county commissioners updates on the project's status.

"You'll see us again," he said.

Katherine Wutz:

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