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Sams Valley substation opponents get hearing

Opponents of Pacific Power's proposed 230-kilovolt substation in Sams Valley will make their case before a Jackson County hearings officer Monday.

Pacific Power has been working on the project for years, but it wasn't formally announced until March 28. However, residents in the rural neighborhood led by Stuart Lahtinen, who lives adjacent to the proposed site, have pushed for the substation to be built at Whetstone Industrial Park in White City.

Pacific Power chose the 28-acre parcel, fronted by the junction of Highway 234 and Tresham Lane and backed by Lower Table Rock, over eight other potential sites in the Sams Valley area. The utility’s criteria included proximity to existing 500-kilovolt and 100-kilovolt lines, impact on the neighborhood, archaeological risks, endangered plants, impact on recreational viewsheds, and cost.

The substation works much like an interchange on the interstate freeway system, said Monte Mendenhall, regional business manager for Pacific Power. Power from the 500-kilovolt freeway is transformed to 230-kilovolts for regional — in this case Medford to Grants Pass — distribution.

Pacific Power stated last spring that construction is scheduled in 2019 with service commencing in late 2020.

The county tentatively approved the project on May 23, Lahtinen appealed June 21, and last month the county posted a hearing notice.

Hearings officer Rick Whitlock will hear arguments at 10:30 a.m. Monday in the Jackson County Courthouse Auditorium, 10 S. Oakdale Ave, Medford.

Lahtinen asserts Pacific Power's application has a number of serious flaws, primarily because the utility desires to build on exclusive farm use land.

"The Jackson County land development ordinance requires that you show good cause to use EFU land in order to protect farmland," Lahtinen said. "Our contention is that they failed to do that. They also failed to compare this property to any other non-EFU properties, which is a requirement from the ordinance."

Lahtinen contends PacifiCorp inflated the cost difference of other sites, adding the utility would not incur the cost of replacing its 115,000-volt line between substations in White City and Sams Valley.

The opponents said Pacific Power's 14 substations with 500,000-volt transformers in Oregon, California and Washington are located within 600 feet of residences, or as in the Tresham Lane area, three residences within 1,000 feet.

"(Substations) are typically located in industrial areas or much more remote areas," Lahtinen said."They are not typically put in a locale where they will be so disruptive."

Pacific Power will be represented by an outside land use attorney, Mendenhall said.

Although some permits are still pending, Mendenhall said preliminary survey work, wetland mitigation and soil testing have been done.

— Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31.

Sams Valley residents Stuart Lahtinen and Karen Roertgen explain concerns over Pacific Power's plans to build a large substation in the field next to their home in this file photo from 2015.