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High-voltage plan sparks ire  

A group of cabin owners in the northern reaches of the Angeles National Forest has added its voice to a rising chorus of opposition to the development of renewable energy – in this case, a high-voltage line that would transmit electrical power generated by wind turbines.

Slated for a scenic 12-mile stretch of the forest near Santa Clarita, the project would convey electricity from windmills in the Tehachapi Mountains to the fast-growing Antelope Valley. It is part of Southern California Edison’s drive to meet a state requirement that 20% of the utility’s power come from renewable energy by 2010 and 33% by 2020.

Tom Hall, spokesman for the California Public Utilities Commission, said the project was critical to the state’s goals.

However, more than 40 cabin owners on U.S. Forest Service land in Bouquet Canyon contend that the line would create a fire hazard close to their homes, and they want it rerouted.

Earlier this year, homeowners adjacent to a national monument near Palm Springs declared their opposition to a plan to build 50 windmills next to the monument. And last spring, environmentalists took issue with the proposed route of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power “Green Path,” a renewable energy corridor. They said the line, which would cross wildlife and wilderness preserves as well as part of a national forest, would ruin views and threaten wildlife.

In Bouquet Canyon, residents say their objections involve public safety, not aesthetics.

“This is not the usual conflict over people objecting to these [lines] running through their backyard,” said Alex Ayres, a cabin owner. “We have a particular concern: fire danger.”

Ayres complained that most residents and the owners association were not notified that the project was under consideration and, as a result, were unable to state their concerns during an environmental review.

“We feel this was a major betrayal,” cabin owner Richard Knox said. “The owners association was set up at the suggestion of the Forest Service exactly to provide an information link between them and us.”

A spokeswoman for the Forest Service, Marian Kadota, said every effort was made to notify cabin owners by sending notices to their billing addresses.

Those cabin owners who did receive the notices said it was extremely difficult to figure out where the power line would go. The notices did not mention Bouquet Canyon by name, although an accompanying map showed a route near Bouquet Canyon Road. Knox said the map required “a magnifying glass to read.”

The environmental review, by the Forest Service and the California Public Utilities Commission, did acknowledge that the transmission line would put the cabins at risk of fire in certain conditions. But the review concluded that Bouquet Canyon still was the preferred location because the originally proposed site, a nearby ridge top, was a strategic firefighting area that would be compromised by a high-voltage line. The environmental review also said a ridge-top power line would mar views of the surrounding forest.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich’s deputy for the Antelope Valley, Norm Hickling, said the county Fire Department had reviewed the Bouquet Canyon site and “will do everything they are capable of doing to protect human life first and then structures second. They feel they would be able to do a very professional and adequate job.”

Such assurances ring hollow to residents such as Ayres, who said the fire risk to the cabins is “being irresponsibly downplayed, understated and underestimated.”

Kadota, the Forest Service spokeswoman, said, “I understand where they’re coming from. I just don’t know how to do it without impacting somebody.”

A third possible route for the transmission line, which would have avoided both the ridge top and Bouquet Canyon, was rejected after residents along that route objected, a majority saying that the line would lower property values.

The Forest Service will make a final decision, probably within a month, after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service confirms that appropriate precautions will be taken to avoid harm to any endangered or threatened wildlife.

As for the cabin owners’ complaints, Kadota said that since the comment period has long since been over, “Formally we’re not taking any comments. We don’t technically have to address them.”

By Alison Williams
Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles Times

20 July 2007

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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