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Applegate residents push for safer hydroelectric plan

RUCH — Applegate Valley residents are taking what they believe is one last shot at reducing the danger and eyesore impacts of planned electrical transmission lines for a new hydropower retrofit to Applegate Dam.

A coalition of residents plan to ask an administrative law judge at a Tuesday public hearing to require a Utah firm to amend its plans to beef up 15 miles of overhead transmission lines along Upper Applegate Road used to ferry electricity from the dam to a substation near Ruch.

Residents would prefer the lines be buried to reduce what they see as increased fire danger, possible human health effects and utility blight in their rural community.

"Everybody supports the hydroelectric idea," says Margaret Della Santina, one of the dissenting residents. "We're objecting to the actual implementation."

Their requests already were dismissed last year when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved a license for Symbiotics to put a 10-megawatt plant on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dam on the Applegate River in southwestern Jackson County.

But they hope this final state review will either honor their requests or at least require Symbiotics engineers to meet with area landowners to minimize the transmission-line impacts as much as possible.

"We know we don't have much to stand on," Della Santina says. "But I'd feel terrible if we didn't go through with this."

The hearing is at 10:30 a.m. at the Ruch Public Library. It will be preceded by an 8:30 a.m. on-site briefing about the project at the Swayne Viewpoint at the dam.

The hearing was called by the Oregon Water Resources Department to consider public interest issues surrounding Symbiotics' request for a water right to use up to 825 cubic feet per second of water to spin its turbines and generate electricity during the regular discharge of water from the reservoir.

The administrative law judge does not have to accept the residents' testimony because they did not officially register as a party in the case, nor is there certainty that Oregon officials can trump the FERC license by imposing tighter restrictions on the transmission lines.

"I think it certainly is an opportunity for public input," says Mary Grainey, the water resources department's hydroelectric program coordinator.

"This is the last chance for the transmission line (opponents) to see if the state has any authority for regulating the transmission lines," Grainey says. "But I don't think they do."

Symbiotics officials did not return telephone calls Friday for comment.

After seven years of studies, Symbiotics won its FERC license in December. Plans call for construction to begin in 2011 on the estimated $19 million project. It could begin producing electricity as early as 2013.

FERC certified the project as low-impact, and it includes plans to reintroduce winter steelhead upstream of Applegate Lake.

The design calls for adding two turbines to the spillway and about a mile of new underground electrical lines from the dam's base to existing power lines along Applegate Road near the last river bridge downstream of the dam.

Plans call for Symbiotic to pay PacifiCorp to upgrade the existing power lines from there to a substation near Cantrall-Buckley Park so the lines can handle the extra electricity.

The upgraded lines would be similar to those running along Highway 238 between Jacksonville and Ruch,

A megawatt is roughly enough electricity to operate 1,000 homes or small businesses simultaneously. A similar facility at Lost Creek Dam generates up to 49 megawatts of power.

The project includes money to reintroduce winter steelhead to about 35 miles of spawning tributaries upstream of Applegate Lake that were lost to native steelhead when the dam was built in 1980.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or e-mail at mfreeman@mailtribune.com.