Bellevue community rallies to preserve 300 trees at PSE headquarters

Members of the Duwamish, Snohomish and Saanich tribes with Bellevue residents rallied in front of Puget Sound Energy (PSE) headquarters in Downtown Bellevue on June 12 protesting the transmission line that will remove 300 trees from 148th Avenue Southeast.

“Always raise your hands to those trees in gratitude because they breathe out what we breathe in … this is that prayer that we raise our consciousness and we stand together, work together, pull together with one heart, one mind, one prayer inside of one house, in one canoe,” said Saanich tribe member Paul Cheoketen Wagner, who led the rally, along with members of the Duwamish and Snohomish tribes to inform the public of the impending project and to raise support.

PSE says the current system increases the possibility of outages because the Lake Hills and Phantom Lake substations are each served by one transmission line. To solve this issue, PSE’s new transmission line will create a “loop,” allowing each substation to be connected to two transmission lines, improving system reliability.

PSE has been planning this transmission line for almost 10 years. In May 2015, the Bellevue City Council approved for the project to proceed, but the East Bellevue Community Council rejected it a month later. In December 2015, the state Superior Court upheld the East Bellevue Community Council’s rejection of the Conditional Use Permit (CUP). PSE appealed the decision later that month and in January 2017, the King County Superior Court reversed the lower court’s decision, ruling in PSE’s favor.

The projected route for the transmission line will run along Northeast 8th Street, 148th Avenue Southeast and Southeast 16th Street, resulting in the removal of 300 trees.

“No one likes cutting down trees, but we have to build this stably. When you build power lines, you have to have certain clearances. We can’t have trees growing up into the transmission lines. When it comes to looping the system, this is the most efficient way to do it,” said the PSE Communication Initiatives Manager, Gretchen Aliabadi.

PSE will plant new trees to compensate for the loss.

“We’ll be planting trees that will be compatible with power lines, so they’ll grow and mature around our power lines and we can still run our system safely,” said Aliabadi.

But members of Coalition of Eastside Neighborhoods for Sensible Energy (CENSE) believe PSE’s transmission line is an unnecessary approach to improving electrical reliability.

“We have talked to former engineers from PSE who said there’s a very common solution to create reliability. [It’s] using automatic switches and sensors that PSE can control from a remote location to reconfigure their network whenever there’s a power outage,” said CENSE President, Don Marsh. “We would really like to see the city validate that this is a better proposal for the trees, it’s less costly and will actually produce even better reliability.”

Marsh’s main hope of the rally and the group’s visit to City Hall was to get the city to engage in an independent consultant to validate CENSE’s alternative solution.

Currently, PSE has all the required permits and documentation to begin installing the transmission line at any time.