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

Bend Way.

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

transmission lines.

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

proven research."

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."

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