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Tanner project clears hurdle
NORTH BEND _ Work could begin as early as next summer on
a project that would place power lines along Interstate 90 and North
Bend Way, according to an official with the Bonneville Power Administration.
Gene Lynard, project environmental lead with the BPA, said after
reviewing an environmental assessment of the Tanner Electric
Transmission Line Project, the federal agency has issued a finding of no significant
impact for the project, which is estimated to cost $3.4 million. The
finding means BPA officials will not create an environmental impact statement
for the project.
However, a North Bend family that lives approximately 150 feet
from where the new power lines will run has some reservations about the
Michelle and Gary Gustafson say the potential for harm from the
electromagnetic field (EMF) generated by the power line, poses enough of
a threat to rethink the project. They say federal studies have been
completed that seem to suggest a link with EMF and some diseases.
"My point is, the jury's still out on this, and you still don't know
(for sure)," said Michelle Gustafson, who is a member of the North Bend
Planning Commission. "There's conflicting studies."
Michelle Gustafson suffers from Crohn's disease, which affects
her immune system. She worries that being exposed to EMF could affect
her health, or the health of her daughter who is 7 years old.
BPA officials had originally suggested bringing the power lines
down Alm Way, just outside the western edge of the city of North Bend.
Lynard said after talking with representatives of the city and other groups, the
lines will instead run along North Bend Way because it has less homes.
The transmission lines will then cut across to Alm Way at a point
farther to the east, about 150 feet away from the Gustafsons' home.
"We looked at that," Lynard said of the Alm Way proposal, "and we
met with the city and the (Northwest Railway Museum) and we came
up with a compromise." Northwest Railway Museum offers train rides
between Snoqualmie and North Bend, and the tracks run close to North
According to the final environmental assessment document,
which was released in August, the Tanner Electric Transmission Line
Project will start near the Snoqualmie Parkway on 356th Avenue Southeast
and be connected to the existing Puget Sound Energy, 115-kilovolt
The 115-kilovolt Tanner Electric line will run along 356th
Avenue Southeast before turning southeast along Southeast 96thWay, which is
a private road. The line then reaches I-90 and will follow the north side
of the interstate for three-fifths of a mile before turning southeast along
North Bend Way.
Once it nears North Bend, the power line would cross to Alm
Way and run to the Tanner Electric substation, which will be built by
Tanner Electric Cooperative for $2.1 million.
Elmer Sams, general manager of the cooperative, said the new
power lines and the substation will help Tanner meet future energy demands
and offset any possible catastrophes.
"There is not enough power availability in the area if one
substation went down in the winter," he said.
"We've needed a substation in the area for quite some time."
BPA officials said even if the agency decided not to go ahead
with the project, another entity, such as Puget Sound Energy, would
probably build the power lines because of the need for power in the area. With
the new power lines and substation, the BPA environmental assessment
states that power needs will be able to be met for the next 30 years.
Lynard said in mid-2001, BPA will begin clearing the right-of-ways
and building 1.25 miles of access roads before installing the
transmission poles and lines.
The transmission lines require a 50-foot right-of-way, or 25 feet
on each side of the utility poles. Trees and large vegetation in the
right-of-way would be cut down, and dangerous trees that have the potential for
falling on the new lines would be removed. The right-of-way would
be replanted with shorter vegetation.
The Gustafsons say they are concerned about the number of trees
that would have to be cut down near their home to clear the right-of-way for
the power line, but they are more worried about the possibility of being
exposed to EMF. They would like to see the power line buried underground
once it reaches Alm Way because it would greatly reduce the strength of the EMF.
"That's the thing about a buried line that makes it so attractive,"
Gary Gustafson said.
Lynard said that when the BPA looked at burying the power line,
"It appeared to be cost-prohibitive." In
the environmental assessment, BPA officials estimated it would cost $400
per linear foot to bury the power line, as opposed to $60 per linear foot on
an overhead line.
Michelle Gustafson said her family walks near where the power
line would be diverted from North Bend Way to Alm Way, and she's
worried about her daughter playing in the area.
She wrote a letter to the BPA about the project in June, and she
included federally funded research she found on the Internet that said EMF
could pose a health risk, specifically leukemia in children, according to a
1997 report by the National Research Council.
Lynard said concerns about EMF exposure were considered, but
studies have not shown a direct link between EMF and health risks.
A 1997 report by the National Academy of Sciences was
partially included in the assessment. It states: "The data at different biological
complexities taken in total do not provide convincing evidence that electric
and magnetic fields experienced in residential environments are
Sams, the general manager of the cooperative, addressed the EMF
issue, saying, "We understand people have a valid concern, but there's no
However, in her letter, Michelle Gustafson wrote that while some
studies about EMF have been inconclusive, "I respectfully point out to
BPA that `inconclusive' is a far cry from a scientific statement that EMF
causes no health risks. Indeed, it makes me more thoughtful about the
existing low frequency Puget Sound energy lines that run down our road."
In the comment portion of the final environmental assessment,
the BPA addresses concerns about EMF, saying, "The proposed
transmission line would have a minor contribution to EMF exposures in the homes
along Alm Way because EMF drops off exponentially with distance, i.e.,
fairly rapidly. EMF from the proposed BPA line would be far less than what
most people normally encounter in their homes."