Construction on 27-mile project could begin in April

By Marcy Stamper

The Okanogan County Public Utility District (PUD) board unanimously selected Michels Power to build the Pateros-Twisp powerline for just over $5 million at a special meeting on Feb. 16.

Michels Power, of Tumwater, was the lowest responsive bidder, according to John Grubich, the PUD’s general manager. Four of the eight firms invited to bid after a prequalification process were eliminated during the special meeting because the bids were “nonresponsive,” meaning the firms had not provided itemized costs for all components of construction, as required by the PUD, said Grubich.

The PUD had asked all companies to bid each element separately so that the PUD could compare costs for things such as stormwater protection and reseeding roads, said Grubich. Instead, four of the eight bidders lumped everything into one number, he said.

Initial bids ranged from $4.54 million to $9.06 million. The two lowest bidders were eliminated, as were the companies that bid $7 million and $7.8 million. That left Michels as the lowest bidder, at $5.018 million.

As the contractor, Michels Power will decide where to start construction and how to proceed on the 27-mile line. The firm can start at the northern or southern terminus, or at both ends and then meet in the middle, said Grubich. The PUD has no input about how the work is performed, beyond the basic requirement that the transmission line be completed by Dec. 31 of this year, he said.

It has taken two decades for the transmission project to reach this point since the PUD started planning a new transmission line to replace the Loup Loup line, which has been the single line serving the Methow Valley since 1948. The project was challenged in the courts almost from the beginning.

“It’s nice to be at this point, to be able to start doing what we do best — building and operating a utility system,” said Grubich.

“You do what you can, and then you get to the end,” said Kathleen “Maeyowa” Yockey, who spent almost 20 years — and $15,000 of her own money — challenging the powerline route. She was a key member in a coalition that wanted the PUD to rebuild the Loup Loup line or to run the line along Highway 153, rather than build a new route through undeveloped land on hills above the highway.

Project challenged

The coalition successfully sued to require the PUD to do a comprehensive environmental impact statement. Next, some private property owners and the Washington Department of Natural Resources refused to grant easements and challenged the PUD’s efforts to condemn their property for the transmission line. Through it all, the PUD stuck with this route as best meeting its purpose — to secure two reliable, redundant lines for the Methow Valley.

The case went all the way to the state Supreme Court, which ruled last year that the PUD could condemn state land for the line.

“It was all about making a choice that seems right — putting the line where power users live, where it’s accessible, where the powerline already is,” said Maeyowa.

The PUD’s construction plans include placing some poles by helicopter, which was one of the prequalification criteria before companies were invited to submit bids. The PUD wanted to be sure all bidders had experience using helicopters in their work, said Grubich.

Another component of the Methow Transmission Project, a new substation at Gold Creek, is currently in the design phase. It will be bid separately from the powerline but will probably also be built this year, said Grubich.

Even if the Gold Creek substation is not completed this year, the new transmission line can be connected to existing substations in Pateros and Twisp. The Gold Creek station will give the PUD the possibility of shutting off individual sections if needed to help with reliability, said Grubich.

Maeyowa noted that 97 percent of comments on the transmission project backed an alternate route. “I felt like the community was behind us,” she said.

“It was good community service. I have no regrets. It taught me a lot about public speaking, finding my voice, and standing up for things,” said Maeyowa. She said it had been stimulating to learn so much about power delivery and infrastructure.

“People will see it’s not the eyesore they thought it would be,” said Grubich.

Michels will do non-field work in March and most likely start construction in April, said Grubich.