Saturday, October 23, 2010

Idaho Power seeks permission from property owners to survey land

By JAYSON JACOBY Baker City Herald

Idaho Power Company is mailing letters to more than 300 people who own land along the proposed route for a major tranmission line, asking for permission to enter their property to do surveys.

The first batch of letters, including 64 to Baker County property owners, went out earlier this month.

All letters should be mailed by Nov. 1, said Keith Georgeson, manager for Idaho Power’s Boardman-to-Hemingway project.

Idaho Power wants to build a 500-kilovolt line between Boardman, Ore., and Hemingway, Idaho, possibly starting in 2013.

The Boise company’s preferred route would bisect Baker County, running near Huntington and Durkee and passing about one mile east of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center.

That route, and in particular its proximity to the Interpretive Center, has angered some local residents.

Idaho Power would prefer to put the line about a mile farther east, but that might not be possible due to the need to protect sage grouse breeding areas, said Michael Ybarguen, a community relations specialist for the company.

The letters mailed this month ask property owners to sign a form allowing Idaho Power employees or contractors to enter the owner’s property.

The company’s goal is to design the best route for the transmission line.

The proposed corridor is about 4,000 feet wide — three-quarters of a mile.

But the easement Idaho Power needs to accommodate the line will be just 250 feet wide.

By surveying the entire corridor, the company hopes to learn about possible conflicts — a center-pivot irrigation system, for instance — that can be avoided when the final 250-foot easement is plotted, Georgeson said.

He emphasized that landowners who allow Idaho Power workers to enter their property are not as a result committed to selling the company a permanent easement for the transmission line.

The easement process is separate.

Also, the line, if built, will not cross every parcel for which the company mailed a letter, Georgeson said.

Some landowners who receive a letter don’t own property within the proposed corridor; rather, Idaho Power would need an easement across their property to access the corridor for construction and maintenance, he said.

Georgeson said Idaho Power officials understand that not every landowner who receives a letter will sign the consent form.

The company needs a sufficiently large sample size, though, to satisfy the requirements of the BLM, Forest Service and Oregon Energy Facility Siting Council.

Georgeson said one landowner who received a letter replied, in essence, that he wouldn’t sign the consent form because he didn’t intend to negotiate with the company for a permanent easement.

Nonetheless, Ybarguen contends that cooperation between landowners and the company benefits both parties.

He said Idaho Power officials want to know early in the process what sorts of obstacles it faces.

And because the company actually needs just 250 feet of the 4,000-foot study corridor, it has considerable flexibility in deciding where the towers (which would range in height from 110 feet to 190 feet) and the lines are built, he said.

“We would much rather work with people now than have a fight later,” Ybarguen said.

Idaho Power does have the legal authority to use eminent domain, also known as condemnation, to force landowners to sell easements to the company.

However, Ybarguen said Idaho Power hasn’t exercised its eminent domain authority for at least 20 years.

That is an “option of last resort,” said Lynette Berriochoa, an information specialist for the Boardman-to-Hemingway project.