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Power line plan needs polishing, report says  

An American advisory committee released a report Monday summarizing landowner concerns about the 210-mile power line between Great Falls and Lethbridge proposed by a Calgary developer.

The five-page report questioned some aspects of how the company, Montana Alberta Tie Ltd., or MATL, approached landowners and conveyed the landowners’ concerns about the power line’s impact on their farming.

The advisory committee’s chairwoman, Cascade County Commissioner Peggy Beltrone, stressed it was the committee’s role “to provide constructive criticism.” Beltrone said the committee submitted the report to the MATL on Sept. 15 and company already is responding to some of the suggestions.

For instance, she said MATL responded to farmers’ criticism that the power line crossed their cropland diagonally by hiring a North Dakota agriculture economics professor to study the costs of having to farm around poles. That report will help the company determine how to compensate affected farmers if the route can’t be altered, she said.

Committee members do not oppose the project, Beltrone stressed.

“Personally, I’m definitely for it,” Beltrone said. “It will provide tremendous economic benefits to northcentral Montana.”

The 230-kilovolt-power line, the first to directly connect Alberta and Montana, will cost MATL $100 million to build. It has commitments from four developers planning wind farms along Montana’s Hi-Line to buy long-term transmission on the line.

Beltrone’s committee estimated the combined benefits of the construction of the power line and wind parks at $1 billion.

The transmission line and wind farms will be taxed, and landowners will receive yearly land easement payments.

“That will amount to an energy crop for landowners that will supplement their agricultural income,” Beltrone said.

“I support the project not only for the wind power it will encourage, but also for how it strengthens Montana’s energy transmission system,” she added.

Cut Bank area farmer Don Bradley, who also served on the advisory committee, said the panel’s role “was to serve as a sounding board between MATL and affected landowners who are disgruntled by the project.”

Still, he said, “most farmers are not against progress or this project so far as I can see.”

Farmers are used to adjusting operations around power lines, oil wells and rock piles he said.

“Obstacles like that may be a nuisance, but we work around them,” Bradley said. “Farmers will be reimbursed every year for power lines on their property.”

MATL officials could not be reached Monday, the day when Canadians observe Thanksgiving.

The company’s Web site projects the power line can be built this coming winter and be running by next spring.

The company has applications pending with four regulatory agencies in the United States, Montana, Canada and Alberta.

Beltrone said MATL said two months ago during the last public meeting that it had signed easements with 69 percent of the 250 Montana landowners. It adjusted the line’s route to bypass landowners who opposed the project.

The American advisory committee’s five-page report can be found on the company’s Web site, at www.matl.ca/advisory/.

A summary of its observations:

# The company should have developed a partnership at the earliest stages with landowners to learn about land conflicts.

# Because no large transmission line easements have been negotiated with Montana farmers for decades, the company should have provided special training for its land agents.

# Landowners were most concerned when the proposed power line crossed their cropland diagonally. The farmers said it is hard to maneuver large farm equipment around poles and they worry about the line’s impact on global positioning systems used in precision farming, irrigation and aerial spraying.

Landowners would have preferred the line’s path avoid cropland, possibly by following more squared off section lines.

# The company could have eased the problem of crossing farmland diagonally if it had made greater use of Montana county road right of ways.

# MATL can address many questions about the safety and reliably of the proposed line by publishing a maintenance plan. It could explain who is responsible for crop damage caused by maintenance crews, fires caused by the transmission line and other points, the panel said.

Reach Tribune Staff Writer Peter Johnson at 406-791-1476, 800 438-6600 or pejohnso@greatfal.gannett.com.

greatfallstribune.com

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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