Whether or not the 450-mile, 500kv Mountain States Transmission Intertie — MSTI — line is built, one fresh idea that has come out of the process is the creation of a citizens-based study group to help the average person’s voice be heard.
State and federal agencies have the reputation for not listening to the “folks on the ground” who are directly affected by such projects as MSTI. A clear example of that was when Jefferson County commissioners sued the Department of Environmental Quality council over the perceived lack of consultation with the county about the environmental study for the MSTI line. (The state Supreme Court later ruled DEQ had done its work adequately and allowed the EIS to move forward.)
However, that gave rise to the MSTI Review Project, which comprises three county commissioners — one each from Jefferson, Beaverhead and Madison counties – and members of five nonprofits: the Western Environmental Law Center; Headwaters Economics; Sonoran Institute; Craighead Institute; and Future West.
Basically, you have a mix of long-time, conservative ranching families rubbing elbows with pro-environmental and economic think tank groups. Odd bedfellows, but the end result is better information and better planning coming from a variety of perspectives. And their efforts are endorsed by NorthWestern Energy, the proponents of MSTI, which helped fund the project with $220,000.
It reminds us of the effort Sen. Jon Tester made in trying to fashion divergent viewpoints with his Forest Jobs and Recreation Act. The result is a wilderness bill that accommodates logging and recreation, at least in some viewpoints.
Here, the issue is power lines. All across the West, states are racing to be the first to sell their power to the population centers on the West Coast.
The group has held several area workshops seeking to understand the issues important to the residents. A report to the community is due by the end of May.
“We’er in a horse race with other renewable generation sites,” said Julia Haggerty of Headwaters Economics. It’s not a matter of if the power lines are built, but when. The only option these counties have is to have a say in where the lines are placed.
There is no agenda for or against the MSTI project, according to Monique DiGiorgio of Western Environmental Law Center in Bozeman.
“If there is anything we’re advocating for, it’s for better information,” DiGiorgio said.
The group is looking at three issues: The need and context of the line, the economic impacts of the line and the most suitable corridor for the line.
For example, many at the workshops wondered why the line could not be built next to the towering Colstrip to Washington BPA line. Turns out, such a line could be constructed within 200 feet of that line.
One would think that government agencies could do just as good a job of enlisting the public for its comments, but in reality, they have certain parameters they must meet that don’t necessarily mesh with a public forum. This group’s study is to complement the EIS, not supplant it.
To us, it’s a great start and we look forward to the results.
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