Three hundred trees that line East Bellevue’s 148th Avenue and NE 8th Street breathed a sigh of relief close to midnight on June 24, when the East Bellevue Community Council rejected PSE’s proposal to build a new high-voltage power line along two beautiful urban boulevards. To be clear, this is a different project than the 18-mile monster known as “Energize Eastside,” but there are some similarities. That’s why CENSE got involved, installing protest signs and staging a street rally in April.
During the marathon five-hour meeting, members of the council issued 16 findings to justify their conclusion. Each councilmember had studied the Hearing Examiner’s Report for many hours on their own, as they were legally prevented from conferring with anyone (including their fellow councilmembers).
The major findings were as follows:
1. The public was inadequately notified about this project. A small segment of the public (neighbors living adjacent to the line) was directly invited to the meeting of the Hearing Examiner, but the meeting was held the week before Thanksgiving last year. Residents are busy at that time of year, and attendance was low. Incredibly, the 2-week time period for appeals included the Thanksgiving holiday. Receiving no appeals, the Hearing Examiner issued his final report, and the clock started ticking on a final period before the project entered “quasi-judicial mode,” where no further public input would be allowed. This period included Christmas and New Year’s Day. Both the public and councilmembers were surprised to find the project was “quasi-judicial” by the time they returned to work in early 2015.
2. The project does not respect the character of the neighborhood, in violation of multiple sections of Bellevue’s Comprehensive Plan. Councilwoman Betsi Hummer pointed out that the beauty of 148th Avenue is no accident. It was very specifically designed to be an example of an “urban boulevard” which would provide up to 50,000 daily commuters with a “park-like” experience during their drive. This involved community sacrifice. Houses were condemned and neighborhoods redesigned in order to accommodate this vision. Councilman Bill Capron said this park was of more significance to East Bellevue residents than Bellevue’s downtown park, which receives a lot of attention from the Bellevue City Council. He was not willing to sacrifice that park-like experience without a compelling demonstration of need for the project.
3. All of the councilmembers were skeptical of the need. The vast majority of power outages in this area are not caused by lack of this transmission line. PSE mentioned 5 outages during the last 10 years that might have been prevented. However, since three of the outages were caused by one transformer, and two by the other, no resident experienced all five outages. Each outage was fixed in about an hour. How does one balance the cost of a rare outage against the cost of the environmental and visual damage this project would cause? The impact of construction was another concern. PSE would have to close one or two lanes of 148th Avenue for 4 to 6 months. This would cause horrendous traffic problems, impact commerce along the route, cause accidents, and increase pollution from stopped cars. These costs were not accounted for in the Hearing Examiner’s Report.
4. The project will not deliver the reliability that is promised, because PSE is prevented from building the final leg of the transmission line along SE 16th Street until an unspecified date in the future. The plans for that section of the route are on hold until the city completes a project that is not yet listed in the Capital Investment Program Plan covering the next 7 years.
Is this the end of the project? Probably not. But PSE will have to adjust to a new reality: residents of the Eastside are now awake and watching. PSE must follow an open and fair process, and must work with residents to ensure that we are satisfied with the neighborhood and environmental impacts of these projects.
The goals of PSE and residents need not be in perpetual opposition. Residents want abundant and reliable electricity, and PSE wants to provide it and make a decent financial return for their efforts.
Let’s supply electricity to the Eastside in ways that benefit all and injure as few as possible.
Don Marsh, VP