Eastside residents sue PSE over transmission project

This map shows two potential routes for Puget Sound Energy
This map shows two potential routes for Puget Sound Energy's Energize Eastside project, which would run 18 miles of transmission lines from Renton to Redmond.
— image credit: Puget Sound Energy

The fight to stop Puget Sound Energy from running a 18-mile transmission line from Redmond to Renton continues, with 74 Eastside residents claiming the power company has no legal right to do so along the Eastside Rail Corridor.

A lawsuit in Snohomish County Superior Court filed last month by those residents — spanning waterfront properties from Gene Coulon Memorial Beach Park in Renton to Newcastle Beach Park in Bellevue — claims PSE was granted the right to subsurface and aerial rights along the old BNSF south rail line by the Port of Seattle and King County through a land deal, however, the port had no right to do so.

Going back more than 100 years, Eastside residents claim the rail line property was only ever granted easements for railroad purposes. However, it is also allowed to be used as a recreational trail under the Trails Act since the rail was abandoned, which residents strongly support over the Energize Eastside project.

King County is already working on design for a trail there that would provide linkage to other larger trails like the Sammamish River Trail in Redmond and Woodinville and the I-90 Trail in Bellevue.

Residents further claim the Port of Seattle only acquired a surface easement for railroad purposes, and property owners along the line are the true owners of those subsurface and aerial rights through fee interest in the right of way.

The lawsuit seeks judgement declaring the port, county and PSE only have a surface easement for a hiking and biking trail and verifying residents' claim the energy company has neither subsurface nor aerial rights.

"There's been a lot of research done on the past titles for all of these folks, so people go back to a variety of different deeds and variances that have been made over the years," said attorney Rick Aramburu, who is representing the 74 residents in the lawsuit.

PSE has until later this month to file an answer to the complaint, stating its case for why it should be allowed to complete its Energize Eastside project there. Andy Wappler, PSE vice president of corporate affairs, said the energy company isn't commenting with specifics to the litigation, but reiterated that route is one of two being considered, and PSE has not made a final decision.

The energy company is using this year to focus on public outreach and input that is to be used when making its final determination, said Wappler, and won't be seeking construction permits until early 2015.

"If our community advisory group can reach a clear consensus on which routes work best, that's the way we'll go," Wappler said. "… Right now, what we're looking at with Energize Eastside is potential route segments and everything is still just that. Every route is still on the table and still equal."

PSE is also facing opposition from the Somerset neighborhood in Bellevue, which opposes its other eastern route being proposed for the transmission line project and does not believe the Energize Eastside project is being done for the benefit of Eastside residents.

Bellevue is currently running on a system that was put in place in the 1960s, said Wappler, and the need is real when facing immense job and population growth by 2040. PSE also estimates it could begin seeing capacity issues by 2017.

"The legal questions don't really change the basic facts that our community is getting bigger and can't continue to rely on the same electric infrastructure that it has for the past five decades," Wappler said.

Aramburu said PSE does have the power of condemnation, which it can use through filing its own lawsuit to continue the "L" segment along Lake Washington. The energy company would need to prove the project is necessary and a beneficial public use.

"If PSE does decide to condemn and the court allows them to proceed with condemnation, then the property owners would be paid the fair market value of the land, but the point of this litigation is to have them not do it, to not put the power lines in," Aramburu said.

Wappler said while PSE does have the option for condemnation, "Clearly that's not a preferred step or the first step."


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