WHITEHALL – Citizens from around southwest Montana gathered at the Whitehall Community Center last Thursday for an open-house presentation from the Mountain States Transition Intertie Review Project core team.
The core team was hired to conduct an independent analysis of the MSTI Project to better understand the need and context of the line, balance energy development with local values by identifying potential corridors for the line while protecting the community and environment and finally to assess the economic impacts and benefits of the project. The team is made up of area non profits conservation groups Western Environmental Law Center, Future West, Sonoran Institute, Craighead Institute and Headwaters Economics.
Jefferson County commissioner Leonard Wortman began the presentation by explaining the reason for the MSTI Review Project.
“We wanted the line sited on public land as much as possible to minimize any effects to private property,” he said.
“It was a benefit for us,” Wortman said of the stakeholders in the project. “We learned a lot from that process.”
Sonoran Institute representative Cameron Ellis is using a spatial model to identify and map community values and concerns about the impacts of the project on order to identify possible corridors and routing options for the line. Some of the categories included in the model are Residential and Commercial Areas, Working Lands, Recreation, Industrial Areas, Undeveloped Lands and Historic Areas.
“The experts on what impacts community values are the community members themselves,” Ellis said.
“A lot of the comments we were hearing when we started were ‘Where is the list of values and priorities that you used when you came up with these sighting options?’” he continued. “Our approach was to start with the values and come up with the routing options based on the input we received from the community members.”
Members of the community are allowed to weigh and rank different variables of the project in terms of relative importance. These scores are then put into a GIS map at 90 meter intervals, resulting in a map of routing options based upon the valued features of the landscape across the entire study area.
“If it’s going to be built, we want it to be built in the best possible place.” added Brent Brock, landscape ecologist at Craighead Institute.
Ellis summarized the big picture of the review project.
“We come up with what we consider optimal corridors based on community values or wildlife concerns,” he said.
The MSTI Review Project will host a community mapping session Dec. 8 at the community center in Whitehall to further identify areas of greatest concern for stakeholders in the project.