BAKER CITY, Ore. (AP) — An Oregon man has enlisted the aid of a group of environmental lawyers in his campaign to prevent Idaho Power Co. from building a power transmission line across the Oregon Trail just east of Baker City.
Gail Carbiener, 81, lives in Bend.
But he has spent quite a lot of time walking the route of the Oregon Trail across the West.
"I've walked every single solitary step of that trail, more than once," Carbiener said.
His concern is that Idaho Power's proposed Boardman-to-Hemingway 500 kV power line, with towers up to 195 feet high, would degrade the views of, and from, the Oregon Trail.
"The chance to go out and see the same things that immigrants saw — you can still do that in a lot of places," Carbiener said.
But not, he contends, if there's a power line in the foreground or background.
Carbiener, who is a member of both the Oregon-California Trails Association and an ex officio member of Oregon's Historic Trails Advisory Committee, has actively opposed the B2H project, and in particular Idaho Power's preferred route that passes near the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center about five miles east of Baker City.
But rather than advocate only for alternate routes that would have a lesser effect on the Oregon Trail, he decided to question whether Idaho Power has even justified the need for a new power transmission line.
To that end, Carbiener asked the Western Law Environmental Center, and specifically its Eugene office, for help.
John Mellgren, a staff attorney at that office, responded by writing a 31-page comment to the Bureau of Land Management, which is the lead federal agency in studying the potential environmental effects of the B2H project.
The comment, which responded to the BLM's draft environmental impact statement for the B2H project, was submitted on behalf of Carbiener, the Oregon-California Trails Association, the Hells Canyon Preservation Council in La Grande, Oregon Wild and WildEarth Guardians.
Idaho Power says that the B2H line, which would run between Boardman, which is west of Hermiston, and the Hemingway substation near Melba, Idaho, would:
— "Enable transportation of low-cost energy from various generation sources in the Northwest and Intermountain West to serve homes, farms and businesses in both regions, including allowing excess wind generation to flow throughout the regions to where it is needed."
— "Improve system reliability and reduce constraints on the regional transmission system as demand for energy continues to grow."
— "Connect the Intermountain West with the Northwest power grid to meet seasonal energy demands."
Mellgren disputes Idaho Power's claims in his comment to the BLM, writing that: "Merely assuming that the project will provide additional electrical load capacity between the Pacific Northwest and the Intermountain region of southwestern Idaho without actually determining whether or not there is a need for such additional electrical load capacity violates (the National Environmental Policy Act)."
Mellgren also argues that the BLM and Idaho Power didn't consider a sufficient range of alternatives in the environmental assessment, among them the possibility of building the power line in the Interstate 84 corridor, and burying the line in some areas.
That route would largely alleviate Carbiener's and others' concerns about how the power line could affect the Oregon Trail.
Carbiener said he believes "there's a good chance" that the B2H line won't be built.
Idaho Power doesn't expect the power line to be finished before 2021.
Carbiener said his optimism is based in part on another major power transmission line that was proposed but later canceled.
That was the 215-mile Cascade Crossing line between Boardman and Salem, proposed by Portland General Electric and the Bonneville Power Administration in 2009.
The agencies canceled the project in 2013, citing changes in demand for the movement of electricity across the grid in the West.
Several groups had opposed Cascade Crossing because it would have been built through the Mount Hood National Forest.
If B2H is approved, Carbiener predicts lawsuits will be filed challenging the project.
"It's a shame it's got to go that way," he said.
In the meantime he is urging the BLM to write a supplemental draft environmental impact statement.