Letter: A power line is not worth putting lives at risk
The U.S. Forest Service has announced an ill-considered draft approval for the Holy Cross Energy Avon-to-Gilman electric transmission line project for a high-voltage line through a scenic, combustible and forested valley prone to rock slides and avalanches. Most of the line will be above ground, including above-ground transmission lines placed in the same Two Elks area where a fire broke out several years ago. That fire resulted in the evacuation of Vail Mountain — and if winds had been less favorable, the fire could have done serious damage to infrastructure on the mountain and possibly the town of Vail.
The Forest Service approval fails to take into account the alternative of burying the above-ground portion of the line and ignores the risk of wildfire danger in light of current and future climate conditions. The Forest Service also refused to hold promised public meetings or publish an official notice in a local newspaper of general circulation, as required by law.
Many of the largest wildfires in the West in recent years were started by high voltage transmission lines which, unlike distribution lines, are not insulated and can start massive wildfires when in contact with trees or other vegetation or blown over by high winds or rock slides.
Recent droughts and future climate change will only increase the danger of wildfires and the need to bury high-voltage transmission lines. In 2020, Colorado had its third-driest year on record and the 12th-warmest with more than 175,000 acres burning from wildfires. Equipment failures that would have caused little or no damage a few years ago now set off fires that burn thousands of acres because forests have become much more combustible.
Utilities have difficulty doing safe trimming of vegetation around high voltage transmission lines, with PG&E in California forced into bankruptcy due to wildfire liability from deficient maintenance of power lines. Two months ago, the CEO of PG&E agreed to bury 10,000 miles of existing California transmission lines stating, “It’s too expensive not to (bury power lines). Lives are on the line.”
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The public has until Oct. 3 to provide comments to the Forest Service. We must speak out now on this important issue. Holy Cross’s short-sighted cost-saving is not worth putting our homes and beloved wilderness at risk.