Pourchot nearing a decision about Northern Intertie route

Posted: Monday, February 26, 2001

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Natural Resources Commissioner Pat Pourchot says he intends to make a decision about the route of the Northern Intertie by March 1.

Pourchot and others in the agency are studying two state-commissioned reports and staff-generated information to help make the decision.

''Everything has impacts,'' Pourchot said Thursday. ''Whether it's the alternatives or Rex/South.''

A state ''best-interest finding'' was released in July that agreed with building a power line on the Rex/South route, which crosses the Tanana Flats. But a ratepayers group and others disagreed, saying that route would mar the scenery.

Gov. Tony Knowles issued a directive for the state to reconsider its decision after a public outcry over the finding.

Golden Valley Electric has been working to gain permission from state and federal agencies to build the 100-mile, high-voltage line from Healy to Fairbanks. It would augment an existing, aging line.

The proposal has undergone extensive governmental reviews over the past six years. It has gained the necessary approval and permits for crossing federal lands, including the Tanana Flats.

Pourchot hired an engineering firm in December to address lingering questions about the route the 230-kilovolt power line would take.

The firm's report was released last week. It found that Rex/South was still the least expensive route -- $34 million to $41 million -- along which to build the electric transmission line.

The report said, however, that alternatives to Rex/South would be much less expensive than previously stated, ranging from $38 million to $72 million.

The engineering report had at least one glaring flaw, Pourchot said. It did not provide cost estimates for acquisition of right-of-way lands should Pourchot change the already federally approved Rex/South route.

Mike Kelly, a consultant for Golden Valley Electric Association, was concerned about the missing information.

New right-of-way costs could add millions more to the project and cause further delays, Kelly said.

The GVEA Ratepayers Alliance, a group that has been opposing Golden Valley over the intertie, said the engineering reports support their assertions about a feasible alternative to building a power line across the Tanana Flats.

The group argues there now is only $4 million separating the two routes. That doesn't amount to much when compared with saving the Tanana Flats, they contend.

The state also hired an environmental research firm to determine what effects if any the intertie would have on fens, a unique type of wetlands.

The firm said the line would not impact the fens, but may cause permafrost to melt faster than it is naturally. The melting could affect 200- to 400 acres, the environmental firm said.

The potential permafrost thaw is an issue because it could increase maintenance costs, said Pourchot, who indicated he was weighing all of those concerns.

''We have to piece that all together before the first (of March),'' Pourchot told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

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