ANGELES NATIONAL FOREST – At the edge of a water reservoir dotted with tiny islands, the canyon floor is green and natural – while in the distance transmission lines run along a high ridge.
The view is pristine from Ron Howell’s 250-acre ranch in the Angeles National Forest. At least the view to the west is, because to the north he has a power transmission line with an audible buzz.
Now, a new transmission line is proposed for the picturesque western edge of his property, on his side of the reservoir instead of on the other side, where a transmission line now runs. Howell is worried about being nearly penned in by transmission lines at his ranch home.
Just southwest in Bouquet Canyon, cabin owners fear that the line would run too close to their own properties, and could expose them to fire risk.
The transmission line is one segment of a $1.8 billion project to bring wind power into Southern California. For Howell, the project is too close to home.
“It’s horrible,” he said. “We’ve put our life savings into restoring this ranch.”
The U.S. Forest Service next month is expected to make a decision on the alignment of the transmission line – called the Antelope-Pardee Transmission Project – in the Angeles National Forest.
One factor the agency is considering is that if it puts the new power corridor midslope, nearer the cabins and on Howell’s side of the reservoir, it could tear down the existing transmission lines along the ridge above the cabins, said Marian Kadota, project manager for the Forest Service.
Eliminating the ridge-line power lines, which are a dangerous obstruction when flames are lapping nearby, could help firefighters suppress wildfires, Kadota said.
“When people fight wildland fires, they usually attempt to make their stand on a ridge top,” she said.
The existing transmission towers along the ridge are up to 60 feet tall, while the new towers to be installed in the Antelope-Pardee Transmission Project would stand up to 178 feet.
In arguing against the proposed midslope line, Bouquet Canyon residents point to an environmental report done for the project that gauges risk from a wildfire. They prefer the new lines run the same path as the existing ones.
“If the wildfire were burning east … there would be no ground suppression tactic between the mid-slope fire and the structures (cabins) located in Bouquet Canyon,” the report states.
Because smoke from a wildfire can cause electricity to arc from a high-power transmission line, it would have to be shut off before firefighters could move in.
But parts of the proposed transmission line are less than a half-mile from Bouquet Canyon Road, where there are more than 100 cabins. The report states that in high winds, a fast-moving fire could reach the road before the line could be shut off.
Kadota said a fire is unlikely to start in the remote mid-slope area where the transmission line would go, unless lightning struck. But cabin owners are still worried by the proposed alignment.
“It would devalue the cabins, devalue the private property,” said cabin owner Linda Love. “The safety risk is significant.”
Because it is within the forest, Love is restricted to living in her 80-year-old recreational cabin part-time, like other cabin residents in the canyon. She shares a quiet dirt lane with other cabin owners, amid oak trees and fallen leaves, with a bubbling creek as her front yard.
Cabin owners feel that they have been overlooked in the planning for the power corridor, and they point to a planning map that failed to show their presence, even though it showed other things such as an old campground.
The power project is a Southern California Edison initiative. The wind-generated power that the 500-kilovolt line would carry will come from the Tehachapi Mountains, and the project will increase Southern California’s share of renewable energy.
Residents of Agua Dulce and Leona Valley opposed an alignment that would have put the transmission lines through their communities, instead of through the forest.
Earlier this year, the California Public Unities Commission voted to put the line through the sparsely populated forest, instead of the two neighboring communities.
Authorities have studied whether putting the transmission lines on the east side of the reservoir would get in the way of firefighting aircraft, coming in low to land in the water and tank up.
In a letter to Southern California Edison, the county Fire Department said the lines would not get in the way of aircraft. But the Fire Department asked that big spheres be placed on the lines so that pilots could clearly see them.
Howell, who works in advertising, said he does not like that, as he looked down at the reservoir from a ridge on his ranch.
“It’s going to span both roads over to this knoll on the right,” he said. “They’re going to go right across there and put up their towers and their lines and their big orange balls.”
After the Forest Service makes its decision next month on the transmission line alignment, the project could start in the late fall. Barring an appeal of the Forest Service decision, construction could take 14 months.
BY Alex Dobuzinskis
LA Daily News
19 May 2007
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