The Madison County Commissioners are hosting an informational meeting in Twin Bridges on a the proposal for a high voltage, interstate transmission line that is proposed to be built through the Jefferson River Valley.
The purpose of the meeting is so commissioners and citizens alike can learn more information about the project, said Madison County Commissioner, Marilyn Ross.
The meeting will be July 29 at 6 p.m. at the Montana Room in the Twin Bridges High School. The commissioners have invited representatives from Montana Department of Environmental Quality, the Bureau of Land Management and NorthWestern Energy to attend and answer questions, Ross said.
The Mountain States Transmission Intertie would be a 500-kilovolt power line between Townsend and a point in southern Idaho. It would be the first transmission line of that size to be built in Montana in a couple decades.
Originally, the proposal was to build the line between Townsend and Three Forks and then follow Interstate 90 to Interstate 15 west of Butte. Then the line was slated to go south into Idaho along the Interstate 15 corridor.
But changes to the plan now place the preferred route south through the Jefferson River Valley next to the towns of Whitehall, Silver Star and Twin Bridges. This route is known as alternate route 2c.
This change in the proposal has captured the concerns of Madison County residents and officials.
Ross is interested in finding out how the county and its citizens can influence the route of the power lines.
“One of the questions I have is about the location of the line and how did alternate 2c become the preferred route and why is it no longer on the interstate corridor,” she said. “Following up on that is it possible to make suggestions on a route that limits the impact to view sheds and on private ground?”
The project is currently held up in court as the Jefferson County commissioners filed suit with Montana DEQ over the process they’ve used in analyzing the project. The suit is holding up work on the draft Environmental Impact Statement, which is yet to be released, said Tim Bozorth, BLM field office director in Dillon.
If the court allows the DEQ to move forward with the draft EIS, it could be released as early as late August, Bozorth said.
The public process for the MSTI project started in 2008 when NorthWestern Energy submitted a right of way request to the BLM, he said.
After the request was submitted, the agency held public meetings throughout southwest Montana gauging public concern and questions about the project.
And though the alternate to put the line through the Jefferson River Valley wasn’t the initial preferred alternative, it’s always been on the table, Bozorth said.
But even though the Jefferson Valley route was an alternative, it didn’t seem to be a likely one at first, said Madison County Commissioner Dave Schulz.
“From my perspective, this came to Madison County very late,” Schulz said. “When I asked about the Silver Star route, it never reached the table. It was on those early maps, but it was never a priority discussion.”
Now the commissioners and citizens are playing a little catch up, he said.
“Until just a couple months ago it wasn’t intended to come to Madison County and we weren’t incredibly concerned about it,” Schulz said. “Respectfully, I’m very comfortable in saying I’ve got a lot to learn about this.”
Once the BLM and DEQ release the draft EIS, the public will have 90 days to look over the document and make more comments, Bozorth said. Until then, his office is focused on completing their portion of the draft EIS and responding to public concerns and questions.
“I’m continuing to receive public input and views on what the public thinks about the line,” he said. “I’m also there to try and answer questions the public may have and provide information as best I can.”
However, the BLM has not made a final decision about whether or not to issue the right of way permit to NorthWestern Energy, Bozorth said.
“No decision has been made to approve the right of way or to approve the project,” he said.