Wood-laminate poles installed by the Okanogan County PUD will carry several lines. Photo by Sue Misao

Wood-laminate poles installed near Benson Creek Road will carry several lines. Photo by Sue Misao

Tall PUD poles will do triple duty

By Marcy Stamper

Eleven extra-tall power poles were installed over two days at the end of September to carry three different wires for the Okanogan County Public Utility District (PUD) – fiber-optic cable for Internet access, the high-voltage transmission line, and the distribution line that carries electricity to each customer.

The beefy wood-laminate poles were installed now as part of the PUD’s broadband expansion in areas requiring additional clearance for the fiber-optic cables, according to PUD General Manger John Grubich. Beyond needing to be a certain height off the ground, the fiber cables must be high enough for line-of-sight transmission to receivers. There is also a minimum distance necessary between the three types of cables, said Grubich.

Because they needed extra-tall poles for the broadband cables, the PUD used 75-foot poles it had already purchased for the Pateros-Twisp transmission line, since the poles can accommodate all three uses in the event that the utility can build the powerline, said Grubich.

By using these poles, “If we’re successful with the P-T [Pateros-Twisp] line, we won’t have to take down a pole and then put another one up,” said Grubich.

The PUD has been hoping to begin construction on the powerline for years, but the project has been delayed by court challenges, primarily over the utility’s efforts to condemn private and state land for easements along the route.

The PUD purchased most of the poles for the powerline in 2009, taking advantage of lower prices, particularly for steel, said Grubich. They have several pole designs for the route, depending on engineering requirements for different segments.

Most transmission-line poles will be an H-frame design and 55 feet tall, as described in the environmental impact statement (EIS) for the project, but some areas – such as this stretch between Twisp and Benson Creek – require taller, single poles, said Grubich. The PUD anticipates a total of 252 poles for the entire powerline route from Pateros to Twisp, according to the EIS.

These 75-foot-tall wooden poles are buried 16 feet in the ground, so the visible section protrudes 59 feet. Existing poles for the distribution system rise 35 feet above the ground, and many of them are being replaced with poles 10 feet taller to accommodate the fiber-optic cables, said Grubich. Holes for most of the new powerline poles will be dug to a depth of seven feet, according to the EIS.

The poles were installed by the PUD’s contractor for the broadband project, Potelco, since the company has the equipment to handle the larger poles, said Grubich. The contract for the pole installation was $70,000, in addition to Potelco’s work stringing the fiber-optic cables.

Almost all wireless access points in the 200-mile broadband expansion have been installed, along with most of the fiber-optic cables, according to the PUD’s director of power resources and broadband services. The project was funded three years ago by the federal Stimulus Act to bring high-speed Internet service to underserved areas.

The last remaining challenge to the powerline, by the Washington Department of Natural Resources, is currently awaiting a decision by the Supreme Court as to whether the court will hear the case.


High Court to decide on hearing powerline case Nov. 7

By Marcy Stamper

A panel of the Washington Supreme Court has asked the full court to review a request by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to hear its case opposing the Okanogan County Public Utility District’s efforts to condemn state land for the powerline. The five-judge panel agreed unanimously last Wednesday (Oct. 2) to pass on the request to all nine justices at their hearing on Nov. 7.

If the justices agree to hear the case, it would probably be the last phase in the decade-long court battle over the Methow Transmission Project, which has been challenged on grounds of its environmental impact and, most recently, by private property owners and the state over the PUD’s efforts to condemn land for the route.

If the justices decline to hear the case, it is most likely the end of the line for legal challenges, and the PUD can proceed with construction of the transmission line, which would extend 28 miles from Pateros to Twisp.

Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark is challenging the PUD’s efforts to condemn a 100-foot strip across 12 miles of state land for the powerline, claiming that DNR has a responsibility to preserve the habitat in question as “vital to the long-term benefit of the people of the state.”

Attorneys for Goldmark argue that lower-court rulings permitting the PUD to condemn state land to build the powerline raise constitutional questions and conflict with previous Supreme Court decisions.

The PUD contends that the powerline serves a necessary public use and is compatible with the state’s current use of the land, some of which is leased for grazing. The Okanogan County Superior Court and the Court of Appeals both ruled in the PUD’s favor.

The justices are likely to decide whether to hear the case on Nov. 7, but they sometimes need more time before issuing a decision, according to a court clerk. If they accept the case, it would be scheduled for oral arguments several months later.