For about 30 years Bainbridge Islanders have fought Puget Sound Energy about putting in a new transmission line.
This time PSE must have listened enough to gain at least some approval: 1,500 minutes of public meetings, 60,000 direct mail pieces and thousands of emails. Another public meeting will take place Dec. 2 at 5 p.m.
PSE announced its preferred route for the “Missing Link” line from Murden Cove to Winslow Tuesday night. To cause the least amount of disruption, the shortest route would follow distribution lines already in place south on Sportsman Club Road, west on High School Road and south on Fletcher Bay Road. In one location the route would change to across the road at Sportsman Club to save some mature trees members of the public were concerned about.
Andy Wappler, PSE senior vice president and chief customer officer, said the transmission line would improve reliability of power for the bottom half of the island. Currently, if a tree falls on a line, the entire area goes dark. But with the change, there now would be backup power. Wappler said reliability on the island would improve about 40%.
The project also would rebuild the aging Winslow line to Port Madison, which powers downtown stores, homes and ferries. It would also add capacity and flexibility for the future with modernization for electric cars and ferries.
Karen Brubeck, PSE senior community engagement representative, said hundreds of islanders, along with a community sounding board, provided input in an extensive public process. Chief concerns were: minimize impact to environment, avoid schools and residential areas, and diminish unsightly visual impacts.
“It was super helpful getting all the feedback,” Wappler said.
Andy Swayne, municipal manager, said in the spring of 2019 a community sounding board started meeting, followed by a community meeting. PSE’s technical analysis looked at codes, wetlands, permits and working with the city. Community values “run their way with everything we’ve done,” he said.
Wappler said since power lines are already there the chosen route is in the public right of way so it would impact the fewest pieces of land, including trees, to minimize their footprint.
Swayne showed before and after photographs of the project, which showed little difference. Current lines are located below where the new lines would be. Trees would be trimmed but few removed, he said. The “preservation of trees” is very important to islanders, he said, adding the most noticeable tree removal will be on Fletcher Bay Road.
“The woody feel is part of the island lifestyle,” Wappler said, adding it’s not like trees can’t be near a transmission line, but, “They have to be the right trees in the right place.” He said replacement trees would be planted that will not grow tall enough to interfere with the transmission line.
Wappler said some islanders were interested in having at least part of the transmission line underground. Along with being more costly and harder to maintain, he said that also wouldn’t save trees. We might have to “dig out more trees,” he said, adding roots grow underground and can damage a transmission line.
Swayne emphasized that wetlands could not be avoided with any of the five route options. But since it follows an existing route for power, the preferred route would impact wetlands less than the others.
PSE says field work and engineering design will begin soon. The permit process will include opportunities for public input. The utility expects the “Missing Link” to be in service by 2025-26.
For details go to psebainbridge.participate.online
Community activist David Johnson says in an email that this is the same route that Puget Power picked in 1995.
Puget Power said the line was needed in response to a storm in 1990 that led to residents demanding to reduce the length and number of outages on the island. A newly approved Comprehensive Plan also encouraged Puget Power to build a transmission line.