Restriction on farming practices among concerns
By MITCH LIES
SALEM -- Oregon farmers in the path of a proposed 200-mile power line planned between Boardman and Salem are speaking out against it.
Growers say they are concerned about farming restrictions Portland General Electric would impose in easements under the 500-kilovolt line. And they question whether it is needed.
Diana Gardener, who produces timber, hazelnuts and Christmas trees on her east Salem farm, wrote to PGE in a Nov. 18 letter that her "farm possibilities and practices will be severely limited" by the power line.
Neighboring landowner Bruce Kaser said the power line will reduce his property value and prevent him from expanding his hazelnut orchard.
The farmers want PGE to consider alternate routes and burying the line.
If PGE decides to build the line, the farmers also want yearly compensation for their losses.
PGE wants to build 800 to 1,000 150-foot-tall towers between a substation in Boardman and a substation just east of Salem in Bethel. The cost is estimated to be between $610 million and $825 million.
The proposed route for the most part follows existing transmission lines on a southwesterly path across the Cascade Mountains.
The line is expected to take two years to construct, starting in 2013.
Mike Mikolaitis, the project director, told Marion County commissioners last month that power transmission needs in the Willamette Valley are expected to increase 45 percent by 2030.
And, he said, additional capacity soon will be needed to transmit wind energy generated in Eastern and Central Oregon to the Willamette Valley.
Mikolaitis said PGE officials have yet to decide on a route, but are concentrating on a corridor that "minimizes impacts on homes, farms and the environment."
Mikolaitis said easement compensation will be negotiated with each property owner, and a third-party property appraisal will determine the fair-market value of the 250-foot easements.
Mikolaitis declined to say which farm activities would be prohibited under the power lines. In his presentation to the county, he said farming practices involving "low-lying vegetation" would be allowed.
Kaser and others along the proposed route believe PGE will prohibit production of hazelnuts in the easements.
"They haven't said this, but I believe they will not allow hazelnut trees under their power lines," Kaser said. "I believe they are not going to allow field burning. And it's a question whether they will allow a vineyard."
Gardener and Kaser also question whether the investor-owned utility will adequately compensate landowners.
"This land has been in farm use for approximately 150 years," Gardener wrote in her letter to PGE. "What is the compensation schedule for loss of income and cost of operation for the next 150 years?"
"The true cost of this will not be paid by PGE ratepayers," Gardener said. "It will be paid by us who are trying to make a living on this land."
Mikolaitis said the utility considered other routes, including following Oregon Highway 22 between Stayton and Bethel. The utility abandoned that option after determining the route would disrupt several businesses, he said. Burying the line is not a viable option, he said, given it would raise the construction cost tenfold.
PGE needs to cross several hurdles before it can start constructing the line, including obtaining a determination from the Oregon Public Utilities Commission that a need exists for additional power transmission capacity in the Willamette Valley.
Bob Valdez, public information officer for the Oregon PUC, said the commission only recently received PGE's Integrated Resource Plan and has yet to make a determination on the application.
He did, however, support Mikolaitis' contention that more transmission capacity is needed.
"It's critical that we get those (renewable) resources onto the grid," he said.
PGE also needs a facility siting permit from the Oregon Department of Energy. The Energy Facility Siting Council considers several factors when analyzing whether to approve a route, including the impact on farmland.
"It's a very, very comprehensive process," said Adam Bless, an energy facility analyst with the Oregon Department of Energy.
Following are the contacts that can be used to comment on the proposed Cascade Crossing power line: