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Proposal to upgrade power lines draws concern

Posted: Friday, Jan 3rd, 2014


An artist's rendition of what upgraded power lines would look like at the intersection of Freedom Boulevard and McDonald Road in Corralitos. (Photo by California Public Utilities Commission)


CORRALITOS — A proposal to upgrade a stretch of telephone poles has brought together a community which is actively seeking a more comprehensive review of the plan.

The proposed project, filed by Pacific Gas and Electric Company and currently under review by the California Public Utilities Commission, is titled the “Santa Cruz 115kV Reinforcement Project.” It extends from roughly Pinto Lake in Watsonville to Aptos High School, winding through the Corralitos and Day Valley areas, and converting an existing 7.1 miles of single-line wood poles with dual-line tubular steel poles.

The new poles would be 90 feet tall, about 30 feet taller than the original wooden poles.

Construction is targeted to start in July 2015 and finish in late 2016.

The purpose of the project is to improve power reliability to about 65,000 residents in Santa Cruz County, said Monica Tell, PG&E spokeswoman.

But what concerns residents, said Cox Road resident Jim Kerr, is the 1.7-mile Cox-Freedom segment of the project, which would replace the current 39-foot wood poles with 89-foot poles, in addition to four new 98-foot steel poles.

“This is the part we think is the most problematic,” he said.

The new poles, at three times the size of the current wooden poles, would drastically alter the look of the countryside, rural neighborhoods, Kerr said.

In addition, many trees along the route would either have to be trimmed or cut down completely.

Kerr is one in a large group of residents in the area who have voiced their concerns over the project. At a public information meeting in November at the Corralitos Grange Hall, about 100 people showed up, he said.

Two more meetings were held later at the Aptos Public Library and were well-attended, according to Kerr.

The Public Utilities Commission released a mitigated negative declaration, a report that stated the project would not have any significant effects on the environment, Tell said.

However, Kerr said the group of residents feel that the project deserves a full environmental impact report.

The group contacted Santa Cruz County Supervisor Zach Friend, who Kerr said was very supportive of the residents’ efforts.

“Our primary concern is that there hasn’t been adequate environmental review on the over seven-mile project in our district,” Friend said. “It’s hard to argue that putting 80-foot poles throughout a rural area, many in tight spaces through the Day Valley, Cox and Freedom area, doesn’t have any environmental impacts.”

The Board of Supervisors wrote a letter to the Public Utilities Commission, advocating for a full EIR to be conducted, which would, according to Friend, help demonstrate the actual need for the project.

“We are fine with needs to upgrade infrastructure, but we think it can be done with much less impacts than the current proposal and we’ve strongly asked PG&E and the state PUC to consider greater environmental review,” he said.

Assemblyman Mark Stone also wrote a letter to the commission, asking for a full environmental report as well.

“The project has the potential to disrupt native wildlife and habitat,” he wrote. “It may necessitate the removal of many trees, including heritage trees, and it could cause significant noise, air and water pollution.”

Tell said the PUC is currently reviewing the comments it has received and could ask for a full environmental review to be conducted.

The timeframe for the next steps of the project is unknown at this point, she said.

Tell said PG&E has been actively involved with the residents throughout the project planning and design stages by sending letters to homeowners in the area, as well as holding public meetings.

Friend noted that the neighbors have done an “outstanding job” of organizing and communicating with PG&E and the PUC. More than 500 comments were submitted to the commission, according to Friend.

“Given the lack of density, this constitutes a significant number of the residents within the impacted area,” he said.

•••

For information on the Santa Cruz 115kV Reinforcement Project, visit tinyurl.com/mt2okzt.

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