PUD delays action on powerline EIS

By Ann McCreary
Methow Valley News


Methow Valley, WA - A proposed Environmental Impact Study on a new transmission line up the lower Methow Valley became mired last week in questions about potential costs and the credibility of the consulting firm that proposes to do the study.

Okanogan Public Utility District Commissioners made no decision during their meeting Tuesday (May 27) on whether to authorize Tetra Tech FW, Inc., to begin work on an EIS that would examine the impacts of constructing a new transmission line between Pateros and Twisp.

Tetra Tech presented a proposal to the PUD last month to conduct an EIS that would take 16 months and at least $365,000 to complete. In order to meet that timetable, Tetra Tech had planned to begin certain plant studies by the beginning of this month. The current delay means that those studies will have to be postponed until next spring.
"We’ve slipped this whole thing," said commissioner Darrel Bunch this week. "Some of the studies are slipped until 2004 because we’re too late getting started on it."

Commission chairman Don Johnson raised many questions about Tetra Tech’s proposal and about the company’s prior consulting work for the PUD, done under the name of Foster Wheeler Environmental Corp. In a conference call with Tetra Tech’s Ellen Hall, Johnson asked why information about environmental impacts, cost, and growth forecasts–gathered during a 2001 study by Foster Wheeler–was not reflected in conclusions that favored building the Pateros-Twisp line over rebuilding the existing line over Loup Loup Pass.

Johnson, who represents the Methow Valley on the three-member PUD commission, advocates improving the valley’s power supply by rebuilding the existing transmission line over Loup Loup in a phased approach, using money from the sale of surplus power to pay for the project.

Members of PACE (People for Alternatives, Conservation and Education) also raised several questions at the PUD commission meeting regarding Tetra Tech’s qualifications. PACE representatives said they found 14 places in the Tetra Tech proposal that indicated additional time might be needed.

"We need to know what the dollar amount will be before we sign a contract," Johnson said in an interview this week. He predicted the study would go over the $365,000 estimate submitted by Tetra Tech, perhaps as high as $500,000.

The PUD has an ongoing contract with Tetra Tech for consulting services, and did not receive proposals from any other firms for the study.

The questions raised at the commission meeting were enough to convince commissioner Bunch to delay authorizing the environmental study. "As far as I’m concerned, we didn’t hear two sides of the story. I’d like to hear some more from the (PUD) staff," Bunch explained this week.

Uncertainties about the cost of the study costs may be a necessary part of an Environmental Impact Statement, Bunch said.

"Going into an EIS, we don’t know until we get into the study what all the issues are we’re going to have to study."

Bunch voted with other commissioners in January 2002 not to fund further studies by Foster Wheeler on alternative plans for a new transmission line. He said there had been "confusion as to the scope of the study (released in 2001). What Foster Wheeler interpreted and the utility interpreted were two different things. In the confusion, the utility and Foster Wheeler were accused of lying."

Bunch said he was reluctant to move ahead on authorizing the EIS while commissioners and PUD staff remain divided on the issue.
"We couldn’t come up with a complete agreement with costs and a closed contract. There’s no sense in passing a motion to go ahead unless you have everyone pretty much on board. You can cram things down somebody’s throat, but those things come back to haunt you."


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