Construction begins for PSE

New power line will bolster electric reliability; 51 trees remain at risk

The fate of 51 trees still remain in jeopardy, but Puget Sound Energy has decided to reroute its planned construction project in the Winslow area after a community backlash of questions and frustration.

PSE has said that a new distribution line running from the Murden Cove substation off Sportsman Club Road down to the intersection of High School Road and Madison Avenue would improve electric reliability and relieve a heavily loaded power line.

The proposed construction, however, was met with anguish among neighbors who feared losing the trees lining their neighborhood along the right-of-way. During an August council meeting, several North Town neighbors came forward to speak against the project, and several council members also raised concerns.

In response, PSE has decided to use an east-west route along Sportsman Club Road as opposed to construction solely on the east side of the road.

The new route will begin on the east side of Sportsman Club and cross the street just before the North Town Woods neighborhood to the west side of the street, where it will continue down the road just past Woodward Middle School.

“North Town Woods residents are happy with the rerouting and see it as a positive step by PSE,” said Lynn Long, president of the North Town Woods Homeowners Association. “We are happy about the decision, except that it would be nice if we didn’t have to take the trees down. It would be nice to avoid that, but the only way to do so is to go right down the middle of the road.”

Long said that Councilors Debbi Lester, Hilary Franz and Kirsten Hytopoulos walked the site and helped foster discussions between the city and PSE to find alternative options. Running the feeder directly down the middle of the street would have saved the trees, he said, but it would have caused havoc with traffic as the street would have to close.

According to PSE, the new one-mile underground distribution line will relieve pressure on the existing distribution feeders by dividing the existing substation demand over four feeders instead of three.

Other benefits include: an underground power source for downtown; flexibility for PSE to switch customers to different power sources in an outage; and added capacity to customers on cold winter days.

The distribution lines bring power directly from substations to homes and businesses, and the existing feeder served approximately 1,600 customers (approximately 3,000 islander residents), and was the fourth heaviest load in all of PSE’s service territory in the Puget Sound area.

In PSE’s original construction plan, all trees in the right-of-way would have been removed. With the new route, that equates to removal of two trees on public property, and possible removal of 49 other trees on property owned by Bainbridge Island School District.

PSE spokeswoman Gretchen Aliabadi said the 49 trees in jeopardy will only come down should their roots be damaged in the construction process. In moving the route to an east-west alignment, Aliabadi said, PSE will keep the trench in the public right-of-way and avoid existing underground utilities such as a water main and communication cable on the west side of Sportsman Club Road.

“After hearing the community concerns we decided that this was something PSE could work with,” said Aliabadi. “There is an additional cost, the tree impact is similar in number and the traffic impact will be a little greater. But it is all very do-able for us.”

The new route will add an additional $40,000 to $70,000 to the $1 million project budget. Traffic impacts will be slightly greater as two trenches will have to be dug across the width of Sportsman Club Road and trenches at the ingress and egress of Woodward Middle School.

Aliabadi said PSE looked at other options, including boring and air spading instead of trenching, but it proved too costly. PSE considered routing down the middle of the road or along State Route 305, but neither option was feasible due to budget, permitting and construction issues.

Construction was originally slated to begin during the final week of July, but was delayed when opposition to the plan arose. In hopes of providing at least some customer relief before winter, Aliabadi said the first phase of construction will begin with tree removal on the week of Oct. 3 and trenching and installation from Oct. 23 to approximately Dec. 26.

The work, which will include lane closures, will occur Monday through Friday from approximately 6:45 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; no heavy equipment or loud noises will take place prior to 7 a.m.

However, some select activities may take place after 3 p.m. on weekdays when school is not in session or after 6 p.m. on Saturdays, according to PSE.

Phase II will begin in late spring and summer 2012 to complete the underground cable portion along Northeast New Brooklyn Road and Madison Avenue North.

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