By Marcy Stamper
The fate of the Pateros-Twisp powerline is likely to be determined by the Washington Supreme Court, after a majority of justices agreed last week to hear a challenge by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to the Okanogan County Public Utility District’s (PUD’s) efforts to condemn state land for the transmission line.
Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark contends that state law does not permit the PUD to condemn state land for the powerline, arguing that he 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 PUD began condemnation proceedings three years ago, after being unable to negotiate an easement with DNR for a 100-foot strip across 12 miles of state land for the powerline.
The Supreme Court’s ruling could be the final 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.
The transmission line would extend 28 miles from Pateros to Twisp and create a second route to bring power to the Methow Valley, which is currently carried by the 65-year-old powerline over Loup Loup Pass.
Oral arguments will most likely be scheduled for the high court’s winter term, which begins in mid-January, according to a court clerk.