Martha Duskin-Smith noticed the 110-foot-tall steel power poles going up around Central Washington University as soon as she got home from vacation last week.
By Wednesday, she’d helped organize about 80 people for a protest march demanding the electrical poles be removed for safety and aesthetic reasons.
“This is a blight on the landscape,” Duskin-Smith said. “When the lines get put on, it’s going to look like Hanford or maybe a prison compound.”
The university is moving the Puget Power lines that run along an old Milwaukee Road railbed on the campus so it can build a $58 million science building and to facilitate future construction.
But the towering gray poles, visible far beyond campus, have become a lightning rod of sorts.
Community activists say they’ve collected about 1,000 signatures in just one week from people who don’t like the change.
And Ellensburg Daily Record Publisher Keith Love has joined the critics.
“We visited one of your poles the other day,” Love wrote in a Monday editorial addressed to Puget Power. “It was still lying on the ground, which is fine with us. It is big - no, it is huge - and it is ugly. …
“Yes, you are moving these lines at CWU’s request. But you, Puget Power, could still help reverse this ugly, ugly, ugly pole mistake. We know it won’t be easy, but things that matter never are,” the editorial said.
“Don’t do this to us. Give us back our skyline.”
University officials said Wednesday they are willing to meet with protesters, but that it’s likely too late to reverse the process.
“I wouldn’t think there is much possibility” of removing the poles, said Richard Corona, university business manager.
The university contends that burying the power lines would be too expensive, citing a $5 million estimate for that work compared with the $1.5 million cost of putting up the poles.
But Duskin-Smith said the university failed to look at the full costs of the project, such as visual blight, potential health hazards from electromagnetic fields and anger.
“I am at an emotional disenfranchisement with my community,” she said. “I can’t believe this is happening.”