Power line slowdown?

Montana Standard

by Justin Post

The state should slow down the process for reviewing a proposed major electricity transmission line through southwest Montana and give people more time to comment, says U.S. Sen. Jon Tester.

The senator sent a June 8 letter urging Montana Department of Environmental Quality officials to take their time in developing a draft Environmental Impact Statement for the project.

Known as the Mountain States Transmission Intertie, or MSTI, the
500-kilovolt line would extend more than 400 miles from Townsend to Idaho Power Co.'s existing Midpoint Substation near Twin Falls.

A number of routes are being considered for the project and residents along the way have voiced
concerns about its impact on people, wildlife and Montana's rural landscape.

In his letter addressed to Richard Opper, director of the DEQ, Tester says he's writing on behalf of a broad variety of concerned citizens and elected officials about the process for developing the EIS.
"I urge the Department of Environmental Quality to slow down and give folks more time to comment,
including holding public meetings," his letter states.

That could help reduce costs and help garner the support of more Montanans, he wrote.

"The route for the MSTI line is a state issue. But Jon wants to make sure Montanans have plenty of time to review the proposed plan to build the line, and to attend public meetings on the issue if they wish," said Andrea Helling, Tester's Washington, D.C., press secretary.

Tester's letter notes the time already invested in the project, but cautions that "from what I'm hearing, more time would be prudent and might result in an even better product."

"Again, I hope you will allow more time for public meetings with Montanans to consider more input," Tester wrote. "It will be time well invested."

Tester's letter comes after Jefferson County commissioners began reviewing a working copy of the draft EIS, as allowed under state law, before the final version has been released.

The document includes a preferred alternative route for the MSTI line
running through the Jefferson Valley.

Jefferson Valley residents and others who have been following the issue have concerns about the line's impact for all routes, and Opper responded to Tester's letter with assurance that all questions will be addressed through a public process.

"I think his goal is the same as ours," Opper said of Tester's letter. "I think our objectives are exactly the same, which is to give people adequate time to weigh in substantively on the best choice for a preferred route for this power line. They also need to weigh in on whether the need exists."

Mark Mackiewicz, national project manager for the Bureau of Land Management, defended the public process that's already taken place for the project and said people will have even more time to comment.

"Montana DEQ is probably going to do a good job in explaining to Tester and his office that this has been a very open process," he said. "In my opinion, Montana DEQ has just gone above and beyond the call of duty to try to find an acceptable alternative. I think we've been extremely responsive."

Release of a final draft EIS is expected in about a month and Opper says the public will have up to 90 days to comment on that document.

The BLM and DEQ are working as lead agencies in developing the EIS.