East Bellevue wins land-use suit over PSE

A contentious dispute between a community council and a utility company reached a head late last month when King County Superior Court Judge William Downing affirmed the council’s right to make decisions regarding a land-use permit for a transmission project.

A contentious dispute between a community council and a utility company reached a head late last month when King County Superior Court Judge William Downing affirmed the council’s right to make decisions regarding a land-use permit for a transmission project.

Puget Sound Energy (PSE) had planned to build two “compromised” transmission lines through the Lake Hills and Phantom Lake neighborhoods in Bellevue, and the East Bellevue Community Council (EBCC) denied the project, claiming they had the right to reasonably amend or deny utility infrastructure in the area. PSE sued the community council.

Downing’s decision acknowledged that EBCC was indeed able to make decisions in its area, despite what Puget Sound Energy or the Bellevue City Council had argued.

“In this case, although a hearing examiner had recommended approval of PSE’s application and the City of Bellevue had given its approval, it remained for EBCC to exercise its lawful role,” Downing’s decision reads. “Although the EBCC must accord due deference to the factual finding of the hearing examiner, it does not abdicate its responsibilities as the law assures it ‘a significant role in determining land use regulations within the community municipal corporation.’”

The proposed land use project would have removed 300 trees along 148th Avenue Southeast and Northeast 8th Street while placing a 115,000 volt transmission line between Bellevue’s Lake Hills and Phantom Lake electrical substations. PSE said this would improve reliability in those and surrounding neighborhoods. EBCC said the 85-foot support towers would mar the beauty of the neighborhoods and that better options to provide reliable energy to East Bellevue existed.

Downing cited City of Bellevue v. East Bellevue Community Council, a 1999 case in which it was ruled that “the obvious purpose of the statute is to place final decision-making power in the community council where land use regulations affecting property within its jurisdiction are concerned.”

Don Marsh, spokesman for and co-founder of Coalition of Eastside Neighborhoods for Sensible Energy (CENSE), said the work by EBCC came from the effort of concerned citizens.

“The lion’s share of the credit for this result belongs to the brave members of the East Bellevue Community Council who chose to stand in front of a speeding locomotive,” he said. “People are sometimes pessimistic about our chances of prevailing against a multi-billion dollar corporation with substantial political influence, a formidable legal team, and practically unlimited marketing resources. Today’s victory shows that justice can prevail. The strong desire of citizens to protect our beautiful city can be successful.”

Downing did acknowledge that EBCC was gung-ho in its suit.

“There are ertainly aspects of EBC’s Resolution No. 550 that misstate or overstate things,” he wrote. “But this does not invalidate the entirety of the Resolution. This Court cannot find that the EBCC committed any fatally erroneous interpretation or application of the law.”

As for Puget Sound Energy, the precedent could have significant impact for Energize Eastside, an 18-mile long transmission line the company has proposed through four Eastside cities.

Akiko Oda, Puget Sound Energy’s media engagement program manager, said more information would be available later, even as PSE appealled Downing’s ruling.

“We’re reviewing the judge’s decision and evaluating options,” she wrote.

Marsh was disappointed in the company’s decision.

“Instead of spending time and treasure on years of legal wrangling, both PSE and residents would be better served working together on a solution that delivers improved reliability without destroying trees and erecting new poles,” he said.


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