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Rural residents spar with Avista

Wed., May 20, 2009

Power line across river will make service more reliable, utility says

Ben Simpson enjoys an unobstructed view of the Spokane River from his living room window, with the added bonus of watching ospreys dive feet-first to snatch fish from the river.

Adding 75-foot power poles to the view isn’t his idea of progress.

Otis Orchards residents are fighting Avista Utilities’ plans to build a power line over the river at Simpson Road. Avista engineers said the line would connect substations in Otis Orchards and Liberty Lake, increasing the reliability of the utility’s electric delivery. But residents say the line – which would be the sixth crossing the river between Barker Road and Stateline – is too much.

“If they want to put another line over the river, they should do it at Harvard Road. They already have lines there,” said Simpson, a retired contractor.

About 70 Otis Orchards residents showed up at a Tuesday night open house sponsored by Avista. Many, including Marian Lonam, think the rural community has more than its share of Avista’s lines. The utility operates three substations in Otis Orchards, which are connected to high-voltage transmission lines.

The enclave of small acreages and horse pastures is getting stuck with the electrical infrastructure to support fast-growing Liberty Lake and parts of the Spokane Valley, Lonam said.

“It affects the quality of my life and my neighbors’ lives,” she said.

Avista officials said the power line would be smaller, and less obtrusive, than the transmission lines on Otis Orchards’ skyline.

Shane Pacini, an Avista engineer, said the line would improve the reliability of the electric delivery on both sides of the river. Multiple connections help keep electricity flowing to customers when lines blow down in wind storms or when other outages occur, he said.

Avista considered installing the new line at an existing river crossing, Pacini said. But that would cost more, because Avista would have to upgrade the existing line as well as installing the new line, he said.

Burying the power line under the river isn’t practical, Pacini said.

Avista hopes to install the half-mile-long power line next year. The line would stretch from Appleway in Liberty Lake to Simpson Road in Otis Orchards. The work would require a Spokane County shoreline permit, plus a habitat management plan to lessen the power line’s impact on ospreys and other wildlife.

More than 200 residents signed petitions opposing the new line. While Avista touts the line’s benefit to both Otis Orchards and Liberty Lake, the growth is occurring south of the river, Lonam said.

“We used to look across and see hayfields,” she said.

Now, she sees luxury homes on Liberty Lake’s hillsides, with apartments and commercial buildings clustered near the freeway. More development is on the drawing board, including the 700-acre River Crossing project in Liberty Lake’s northeast corner. The mixed-use development is a joint project of Greenstone Corp. and Centennial Properties, a subsidiary of Cowles Co., which owns The Spokesman-Review.

With three substations and high-voltage power lines, Otis Orchards is already doing its part for the region’s electrical delivery, Lonam said.

Avista built the latest substation, Boulder Park near Trent and Harvard roads, in 2003. The substation is part of the system that distributes electricity from the utility’s Clark Fork River dams to customers. It was built to supply the rapidly growing Interstate 90 corridor, according to an Avista fact sheet.

In a 2003 letter to the community, Avista said it would close an existing Otis Orchards substation after the larger Boulder Park substation went into operation. But that didn’t happen, Lonam said.

“This is the sneaky stuff we’re dealing with,” she said. “That’s why Otis Orchards is on fire.”

Anna Scarlett, an Avista spokeswoman, said further population growth prompted the utility to keep the Otis Orchards substation running.

“We’re not just talking about Liberty Lake, but the whole area, including growth in Post Falls and the Spokane Valley,” she said.

After Avista applies for a county permit, residents will have additional opportunities to weigh in, she said.

“We’re really just at the beginning of this process,” Scarlett said.

Contact Becky Kramer at (208) 765-7122 or

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