At a Nov. 14 special meeting, the Bellevue City Council unanimously rejected resident appeals against Puget Sound Energy’s (PSE) Energize Eastside (EE) project.
The EE project results in an 18-mile, high-voltage transmission line that runs through several cities on the Eastside, including Bellevue and Redmond.
The appeals specifically challenged the hearing examiner’s recent recommendation to approve PSE’s conditional use permit for the south segment of EE. The five appellants, which included the Coalition of Eastside Neighborhoods for Sensible Energy (CENSE), state that PSE has not efficiently studied the effects of the project and that it hasn’t sufficiently looked at potential alternatives.
The south segment is 3.3 miles long and runs from a Richards Creek substation to south Bellevue city limits. The purpose of EE is to efficiently meet peak energy demand — typically in the winter and summer — when more energy is used in response to more extreme weather events.
At the Nov. 14 meeting, the council acted as judges, and, as noted by Mayor John Chelminiak, were strictly determining if the hearing examiner’s recommendation was supported by material and substantial evidence in the record. (Material evidence shows a reasonable probability that the presence or absence of evidence would alter the decision by a fact-finder; substantial evidence shows a sufficient amount of proof to back up a finding.)
Because the Nov. 14 meeting was a process 1, quasi-judicial proceeding, city attorney Kathy Gerla reiterated that councilmembers cannot communicate with outside parties on the subject as status on the appeals pends.
Chelminiak, speaking on behalf of himself and his councilmembers (Councilmember Jennifer Robertson was recused from the meeting due to a business-related conflict of interest), said he and his colleagues believe there is material and substantial evidence to support the hearing examiner’s decision, and that all necessary criteria have been met by PSE to grant a conditional use permit. As a result, the appeals were rejected.
“We’ve had the record before us and have had the opportunity to review it and talk to the city attorney about it,” Chelminiak said. “We have met as a group to discuss what is in the record.”
Chelminiak invoked several topics of concern at the meeting — such as need and reliability, segmentation, safety and visual impact — and cited evidence in the hearing examiner’s decision that led him and his councilmembers to support the recommendation.
There are about 15,000 pages of record on the subject.
The city has asked the city attorney’s office to draft an ordinance regarding the decision, which will be acted on at the regular meeting scheduled for Dec. 2. The ordinance ultimately denies the appeals and incorporates evidence found in the hearing examiner’s recommendation.
In a statement posted on its website shortly after the Nov. 14 meeting, CENSE voiced disapproval of the council’s rejection of the appeals.
“This outcome was beyond surprising,” CENSE president Don Marsh said in the statement. “The decision, the lack of discussion and the lock-step verbiage were unusual, given what we know about our council.”
CENSE said the decision is antithetical to many of the city’s goals.
“The council has now reached a conclusion at odds with its stated goals of protecting our tree canopy, reducing emissions and using smart technology to moderate energy use and increase reliability,” the organization said in a statement.
Despite the council’s decision, the appellants will be challenging the hearing examiner’s recommendation in court appeals. According to CENSE’s website, the hearing and appeal process of EE will be repeated in Newcastle and Renton (cities which are also affected by the project) and that the ultimate fate of EE could take years.
A video of the Nov. 14 meeting is available online (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZqjPSIDxWvs) on the city of Bellevue’s YouTube page.