The East Bellevue Community Council found more than a dozen legal arguments for opposing Puget Sound Energy’s redundancy project between its Lake Hills and Phantom Lake substations on Wednesday.
The EBCC’s unanimous rejection of a conditional use permit and shoreline CUP application — approved by the city council in May — means PSE has three weeks to file an appeal in King County Superior Court.
PSE’s project would run a 115 kilovolt transmission line along a 2.89-mile route to connect the two substations. The energy company began planning the addition of a second transmission line connecting the two substations in 2006, wanting to ensure residents wouldn’t lose power when a line to either substation went down.
The route is proposed along Southeast 16th Street, 148th Avenue Northeast and Northeast Eighth Street, causing contention in the Lake Hills neighborhood due to the need to remove nearly 300 mature trees. PSE has agreed to pay the city $856,000 to replace those trees and add more landscaping with a 5-year monitoring plan.
Residents began protesting the project several months ago, however, neither the city nor the community council could take public feedback, as a hearing examiner had approved PSE’s application last November. Both councils were required to either approve or reject the permit application based solely on a legal interpretation of the project and its compliance with city codes.
“It was quite involved,” said Community Councilmember Bill Capron of the EBCC’s work on the CUP and shoreline CUP. “I think we spent more time — accumulated — on that than the council did, the Bellevue City Council. I think we made the right decision.”
Capron said the “big turning point” for him was when fellow Community Councilmember Betsi Hummer spoke out about PSE’s project not meeting the urban boulevard standard for 148th. Capron owns the Texaco station of the 100 block of 148th Avenue Northeast.
“The East Bellevue Community Council spent hundreds of hours on that back in the ’70s,” he said, adding 148th Avenue’s aesthetic value is comparable to that of a park setting for the Lake Hills neighborhood, and would be lost through the erection of power poles. “I think we had grounds to overturn the hearing examiner. I fully expect Puget Sound Energy to appeal it to the superior court.”
EBCC Vice Chairman Steve Kasner said the community council cited 16 findings in its unanimous decision to reject PSE’s application, adding the project made sense under certain portions of the city’s comprehensive plan and didn’t in others.
“It was the toughest thing that I was ever involved in,” he said. “You want to do the right thing for your community.”
Kasner said the EBCC believes redundancy between the two substations is important for electrical reliability and its decision Wednesday was not meant to suggest otherwise.
“We didn’t solve the problem,” he said. “We still need to do something there.”
Puget Sound Energy issued this statement at 2 p.m today, which does not confirm whether it will file suit in King County Superior Court:
PSE is disappointed in the East Bellevue Community Council’s decision. For more than eight years, we have worked with the community and the city to develop a project that provides needed electric reliability while minimizing impacts and restoring affected areas. If built, the Lake Hills-Phantom Lake project would improve electric service reliability for more than 12,000 residential and commercial customers in the Crossroads, Robinswood, Lake Hills and Phantom Lake neighborhoods. By voting no, the EBCC is making a statement that electric reliability is not important to a community that has historically been vulnerable to lengthy power outages. Nearly all other Bellevue neighborhoods already have the level of reliability that the Lake Hills-Phantom Lake project would bring to this east Bellevue area. PSE believes in providing reliable electric service to all of our customers, and as a result, we are evaluating our options in terms of next steps for the project.