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BPA plans to rebuild power lines

| August 22, 2007 12:00 AM

By KYLE McCLELLAN The Western News

Bonneville Power Administration, a U.S. Department of Energy agency, is planning to rebuild a 17-mile section of power transmission lines between Libby and Troy next summer.

The construction is slated to begin in May and should be finished by November, barring any significant public opposition.

BPA officials say the rebuild, which will impact private properties and natural wildlife habitat, is crucial because the system's current structures are literally falling apart.

According to an environmental impact study commissioned by BPA, the wooden cross-arms that carry the electrical line are rotting and metal fittings are corroding.

In 2003, the deterioration caused a wire to fall and start a fire.

With the rebuild, which will cut through some private properties and affect various wildlife habitats along the Kootenai River, BPA officials are renovating a system that brings electrical power to Libby, Bonners Ferry, Sandpoint and many smaller communities.

The proposed rebuild will mainly occupy the transmission's current corridor with three possible re-alignments.

Two proposed re-alignments were designed to avoid landowners on Kootenai River Road near Pipe Creek and in the Bighorn Terrace subdivision.

The third re-alignment was designed to keep the line out of sight to visitors at Kootenai Falls by moving the current line near the falls about three-fourths of a mile east.

BPA prefers to rebuild the line using the third re-alignment, which was found to carry fewer negative environmental impacts than the first two.

BPA and U.S. Forest Service officials held an open house Wednesday night at the Kootenai National Forest Supervisor's office to present the proposed rebuild plan and to hear from the public.

Project manager Kirk Robinson, who works for BPA, fielded several questions from residents who live along the transmission line corridor.

The agency is working with a Spokane, Wash., Realtor to mediate issues resulting from the line's proximity to private homes.

BPA's environmental impact, compiled by the company's environmental lead Trish Eaton, identified impacts on numerous wildlife.

Generally the impact was classified as low to moderate.

However, it found a two-to -three week period of high impact on Grizzly Bear habitat when helicopters are used in the rebuild.

According to the study, the impact would return to low levels after construction is completed.

Four bald eagle nests were found within the project area.

A nesting zone in Pipe Creek is expected to have a low level of impact. Another in Quartz Creek is expected to have a low to moderate impact. A third nesting zone in Hunter Gulch is expected to have a moderate impact and the fourth zone near Kootenai Falls will have a moderate to low impact.

BPA decided to use 115 kV power lines in the rebuild as opposed to a higher capacity 230 kV double-circuit line that may be needed to serve a growing population in the future.

"It seems to me we'd save a bunch of money if you went right ahead and built 230 kV line and be done with it instead of 40 years down the road paying at least 10 times as much," said an open house attendee.

Robinson responded that though he agreed with the concern, project planners were "very doubtful" that a 230 kV will be needed through Libby, despite a generous 2 percent yearly growth estimate.

"They couldn't justify the extra money for what they saw in the future," Robinson said. "Quite frankly, most of us were disappointed."