by Pia K. Hansen

Power to the People -- COLFAX, Wash. -- South Palouse residents have been giving Avista Utilities a piece of their mind at a couple of recent community meetings about a proposed new power line that could cross the Palouse from the Idaho border to Colfax. Residents' vocal opposition has left the utility company slightly on the defensive.

"These community meetings are not mandated by law or anything -- we are volunteering to hold them," says Catherine Markson, communications manager for Avista. "I want to make it perfectly clear that we have not picked a site. We are trying to go to the community saying, 'This is what we have in mind, now tell us about the pros and cons of this proposal.'"

The proposed line is a 230,000-volt transmission line, similar to the line coming out of the transmission station on Upriver Drive.

Markson explains that the power line would run across the Palouse from the Benewah, Idaho, substation located right on the Washington border before connecting with an existing transmission line that's running north-south in the Colfax area. That transmission line would be upgraded to 230,000 volts as well.

"The proposed line could be located anywhere in that area," says Markson, declining to pinpoint a preferred location.

Avista already owns the right-of-way for existing power lines on the Palouse, but a line going from Benewah to Colfax would mean new land acquisitions.

Todd Gabbard lives in the town of Waverly, where he's also on the city council. He's been to the previous community meetings and he says Palouse residents are up in arms.

"I understand that [Avista] needs to move power. What we are simply asking is that Avista maintain the lines within the existing right-of-way," says Gabbard. "I think they are looking for the cheapest route possible."

Gabbard says he received a note in the mail announcing the meetings, but that not all area residents got one.

"We are aware that we missed some people," says Markson. "We went off a list we had gotten from the county, and we also took out ads in all the newspapers."

At the last meeting, Gabbard says about 200 people attended.

"People are concerned about the health effects of electromagnetic fields around the lines. And farmers are concerned that they can't spray with crop dusters around the lines, and everyone is worried about decreased property values," says Gabbard.

He's convinced the main reason behind the proposed new power line is that it will cross an already existing natural gas line, creating a perfect location for a power plant on the Palouse.

But Markson says there are no plans for Avista -- or anyone else that she knows about -- to build such a power plant.

"It is correct that one component of what makes that area attractive to us is that there is a large natural gas line, near Rosalia, generally going north-south," says Markson. "When you invest $30 million in a transmission line, you want to make sure that you don't have to come back and rebuild it -- ever. Having a natural gas line near a high-voltage line is attractive for a power plant. Is there a chance that someone at some point could built a plant there? Yes. Do we have plans to do so? No."

Gabbard says Avista is listening, but he's not sure if it will matter.

"After Enron and all that, I think it's a public image thing for Avista to be having these meetings," he says. "The question we have is, will they obey the community, or just go ahead and do it their way? Hopefully we can reach a solution that's beneficial to everyone."

The next community meeting is on Monday, Nov. 3, at 6:30 pm at the Latah Community Center.

Comcast is Calling -- SPOKANE -- Ever had any problems with your cable service? Tired of waiting for two hours for a five-minute repair? Now is the time to speak up.

Comcast has applied to the city for a renewal of its cable TV franchise, and as part of that process the city is surveying 400 randomly selected cable TV subscribers via phone.

"I am hopeful of broad citizen involvement and participation as we work to renew our cable franchise," says Cherie Rodgers, city council member and liaison to the regional cable advisory board.

The survey takes about 15 minutes and is completely confidential. If your household doesn't get a call, you can e-mail your comments -- good or bad -- to [email protected] or call and leave a message at 625-6557.

Publication date: 10/30/03

Hygge Holiday Market @ Bellwether Brewing Co.

Sat., Dec. 2, 2-6 p.m.
  • or