MSTI Review analyzes input from the community

After a series of community mapping workshops in both Montana and Idaho the members of the Mountain States Transmission Intertie Review Project are processing the input they’ve collected to develop and produce their final reports later on this spring.

Project coordinator Monique DiGiorgio was pleased with the turnout at the workshops held Feb. 22 in Pocatello and Feb 23 in Butte. Of the 16 counties between the two states that are potentially impacted by MSTI, representatives from 13 counties attended the workshops and 12 participated in the weighting and ranking process.

“Madison and Jefferson Counties have started this independent analysis to gather additional information to inform their thinking on the project and to provide a voice for the local county commissioners,” DiGiorgio said.  “This is sort of an additional way for the local elected officials to really engage in the sighting of the transmission line in a way that benefits local communities.”

MSTI is a 500-kilovolt electricity transmission line project proposed by NorthWestern Energy. The line would run between Townsend and Jerome, Idaho. Some of the proposed routes in Montana have been through the Jefferson River Valley, and down the Interstate 15 corridor to the Idaho/Montana state line south of Dillon.

The MSTI Project Review Team is made up of members from both Montana and Idaho who represent a variety of interests including sportsmen, elected officials and ranchers. Madison County Commissioner Dan Happel is the vice chairman of the group.

A preliminary review of results from the mapping workshops indicates the top three themes in the community model will be land use, co-location with existing infrastructure and land ownership. The highest valued features within those themes the model will avoid are residential, commercial and agricultural areas, places without existing infrastructure in place and private lands.

The process for compiling these results asked survey participants to assign numeric scores to more than 30 geographic features and compare six geographic themes against each other. The model will ultimately provide input on options about where the MSTI line can be located.

Some county representatives who attended the workshops were reluctant to participate due in part to uncertainty about what they would be endorsing. A representative from Clark County in Idaho abstained from completing survey worksheets because he wanted to first consult his constituents. Representatives from Butte-Silver Bow County did not want to be misconstrued as not caring about other geographic themes, and instead submitted a statement on survey worksheets expressing their firm commitment to keeping the power line on public land.

One key component of the MSTI Review Project is understanding the potential economic impact of the power lines, and Julia Haggerty of Headwaters Economics is currently working to determine what those impacts will be. Part of Haggerty’s job is reviewing research by Dr. James A. Chalmers covering property sales along 500 kilovolt transmission lines running from power plants in Colstrip to the Idaho/Montana border.

Chalmers research analyzes individual transaction as well as lot sales using personal interviews, sales comparisons and statistical techniques. The transactions are categorized into property types representing a combination of agricultural, residential and recreational uses, and results and analysis from each of these property types are summarized and used to identify conditions that can make properties vulnerable to impact.

Haggerty emphasized the retrospective study is designed to review impacts from transmission lines that have occurred in the past.

“This study is not set up to project impacts,” she said of Chalmers’ research. “It can raise some general areas where we can look for potential impacts, but it’s not set up to quantify or predict specific impacts to different properties.”

Haggerty will participate in a discussion hosted by the MSTI Review Project that is scheduled for Tuesday, April 17 at Montana Tech in Butte where Dr. Chalmers will present his research. The presentation will include comments from real estate professionals in the area.

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