HEA seeks funds to prevent future power loss

Posted: Sunday, April 21, 2002

Dead spruce along an eight-mile stretch between China Poot and Sadie Cove are considered a threat to Homer Electric Association's power lines serving communities on the south side of Kachemak Bay. The utility cooperative is seeking funds to log those trees.

"No one wants to see a repeat of what happened on the North Fork Road in December 2001, when high winds sent hundreds of beetle-killed trees into power lines, leaving some residents without power for up to a week," HEA General Manager Norm Story said in a letter to Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly President Tim Navarre.

That storm cut power to hundreds of customers, some for several days. The cost of cleanup and repairs to power lines has been estimated at nearly $2 million.

The borough and HEA have been working under a cooperative agreement to clear hazardous trees from around transmission line rights of way. HEA has relied on the borough's ability to allocate federal funding for the tree-removal work that has resulted in the clearing of thousands of dead trees, Story said.

According to HEA, some 162 miles of beetle-killed trees have been cleared along power line corridors from East End Road in Homer and north along the Sterling Highway to the Kenai and Soldotna areas.

"This work, which is ongoing today, has significantly reduced the threat of power interruptions and fire hazards for more than 20,000 homes and businesses on the Kenai Peninsula," Story said.

Dead trees in Kachemak Bay State Park, however, still pose a threat to power to the communities of Halibut Cove, Seldovia, Port Graham and Nanwalek, Story said. The most serious beetle impact is between China Poot and Sadie Cove, where virtually all the trees are dead and "pose an imminent danger" to power lines, he said.

"The situation will result in significant damage to the electrical system unless action is taken immediately," Story said.

"The right of way itself is in pretty good shape," said Joe Gallagher, spokesperson for HEA.

Most of the threat comes from trees outside the line right of way. The contract would require cutting any tree that could pose a threat to the line, he said.

If the funds can be found, HEA would put the clearing project out for bid. The estimated cost of the project is $513,864.

Tuesday, the assembly agreed to write a letter in support for funding for the HEA project. The borough, meanwhile, has asked that further funding for its ongoing beetle-damage mitigation program be included in the fiscal year 2003 federal budget. Since 1999, the borough has received grants totaling $10 million. It got $500,000 in 1999 to set up a task force to look at the scope of the problem, $2 million in 2000 to implement initial task force recommendations, and another $7.5 million in 2001 for further beetle-mitigation projects.

The federal budget will not be adopted until October. Though perhaps not likely during the summer months, a storm conceivably could bring down trees along the corridor before a project could be funded, bid and carried out.

Navarre said Thursday it might be possible to fund the project sooner by redirecting some existing federal beetle-mitigation funds, or perhaps appropriating some of the interest being earned on that money. There has been no move to do that, yet, however.

"Because we were given it as a direct payment of federal funds, we are earning interest on those funds that there is no priority for or direction on," Navarre said.

HEA recently got $300,000 for tree-clearing work in the Funny River area. That money was interest money, Navarre said.

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