A farm-centered group in Tulare County is serving as an example for other farmers as it fights for the least disruptive routing of a high voltage transmission line.

The Southern California Edison Company stirred strong opposition among farmers and others in Tulare County when it announced its preferred routing in 2006 for a new super transmission line. It originates at the company's Big Creek hydroelectric facility in the Central Sierra and terminates at an existing substation near Visalia.

Since then dozens of meetings have been held to consider that route and four others. Central to the meetings, discussions, studies and involvement is the group Protect Agriculture, Communities and Environment.

While emotions run high at meetings and kitchen table discussions the leaders and volunteers at PACE have emphasized the need for spokesmen and others involved to do their homework. So far they have shown that they are not afraid to study or to speak out.

At a July meeting one property owner referred to the power company's choice of routing by saying: "The devil himself could not have selected a more devastating path," at least as it affected his holdings and those of neighbors.

An assessment of the damage and disruption resulting from Edison's preference, known at Route 1, resulted in widespread opposition. Part of PACE's homework was to evaluate alternate routes. Its support of Route 3 has been enthusiastic.

Route 1 passed over numerous orchards where wells and irrigation lines have been in use for years. Also on its path are dozens of towering wind machines used for frost protection. Construction of the line on towers 120 to 160 feet high over these farm structures would render them unusable.

Instead, the alternate routes suggested by PACE traverse mostly range land and unoccupied mountain country that is out of the path of development. Edison's first choice also spanned several development potentials, both residential and commercial.

Focus of PACE's expressions has been the state Public Utilities Commission, which has circulated its draft environmental impact report for the huge project. So far it has appeared to listen carefully and record the comments and written testimony offered by those opposing the routing. A July meeting in Visalia attracted a boisterous700.

None of the testimony or protests have denied the need for the additional power to be supplied by the new lines. Those who testify want the lines to cross as few developed agricultural acres as possible. Their study of the issue has led them to make suggestions that don't increase the cost of construction beyond Edison's preferred route.

Nobody denies that the area served by the terminus of the line is badly in need of a power upgrade. PACE has been very realistic on that point.

The PACE movement embraces the major elements of society in the area: farming, retail businesses, politicians, residences, traffic, schools, the environment.

It's a model for others who face pressure now or in the future from agencies and organizations whose actions will impact them and their way of life.

PACE is showing that farmers and their friends must do their homework if they wish to pass the test of engaging and influencing those groups.

Don Curlee is a freelance ag writer and editor based in Clovis. E-mail: agwriter1@aol.com.

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