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High-voltage route sparks outrage at TID meeting
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The Turlock Irrigation Board of Directors finalized a contentious route for a high-voltage transmission line running from Hughson to the south end of Ceres on Tuesday, but the chosen route wasn’t appreciated by City of Hughson representatives.

The selected path, chosen by a 3-2 vote with Board President Rob Santos and Vice President Charles Fernandes dissenting, begins at the corner of Geer Road and East Whitmore Avenue, following Whitmore east before taking Euclid Avenue south to TID Irrigation Lateral No. 2. The poles would then follow the lateral east before taking Faith Home Road south, then meeting with TID Lateral No. 2 1/2, crossing over Highway 99, and following Lateral 2 1/2 east. The transmission line would then follow the Union Pacific train tracks north to a new Grayson substation, to be constructed south of the district’s Almond Power Plant.

The district says the new $16 million transmission line is necessary to improve the reliability of an aging Ceres power grid by reducing strain on existing transmission lines and providing an alternate route for power in the case of downed lines. The project would also accommodate increasing demand in the Ceres area.

“The City of Hughson isn’t necessarily opposed to this project,” said Linda Kuipers, a City of Hughson planner. “What the City of Hughson is opposed to is taking the lines down Euclid Avenue.”

According to Kuipers, Euclid Avenue lies in the heart of Hughson’s growth plan, with visions of homes lining the street one day soon. She feared the 115-kilovolt lines could dissuade developers from building on the land.

The plans also call for placing a pole in the middle of an existing arboretum at the corner of Euclid Avenue and Whitmore Avenue, as well as on land currently planned for a Hughson sports park, which is seeking grant funding.

Kuipers wanted TID to instead build the line down Geer Road – an alternative studied by the district as part of an environmental review.

That review has stretched on for nearly two years, after the first environmental impact report was rejected by TID directors in November 2009, following an outpouring of complaints from landowners along the then-proposed path and the City of Ceres. Ceres had concerns that the route then travelled down East Grayson Road and Faith Home Road, both of which lie in Ceres’ future growth plans. Ceres concerns were addressed in the route adopted Tuesday.

The Geer Road versus Euclid Avenue debate was complicated by Stanislaus County’s position, as the county did not want the transmission lines built alongside Geer. The county plans on widening Geer Road, and would be forced to relocate the lines at their own expense.

The Geer route would have cost TID an additional $1.2 million, while also resulting in potentially reduced reliability compared to the Euclid route. The Geer route would have seen the 115-kv lines collocated on existing poles, creating the chance that an accident could take out multiple lines.

Hughson City Councilman Matt Beekman asked the district to delay a decision on the Euclid route until the Hughson City Council could convene to consider increasing development fees to pay for a portion of the Geer Road alternative.

“I think if the City of Hughson and TID can put our heads together and pool our resources, we can make this work,” Beekman said before the decision was made.

Santos opposed the selected route, preferring a path down Geer Road.

Fernandes joined Santos in support of an alternative which would have sent the 115-kv lines down Lateral 2 east of Highway 99, as opposed to Lateral 2 1/2. The plan which would have collocated the transmission lines with existing TID and Modesto Irrigation District 230-kv lines, preventing a new transmission corridor and impacting only homeowners who already have nearby power lines.

The three directors who voted for the final route – Ron Macedo, Michael Frantz and Joe Alamo – based their decision largely upon staff’s assessment of the most reliable possible route.

The chosen route was not the path recommended by TID staff, however. Frantz took TID’s recommended route – which would have followed Lateral 2 all the way to Highway 99, crossing farther north than in the adopted plan before travelling south to Lateral 2.5 along Lateral 2 – and suggested the plan be revised to incorporate the middle part of the route initially proposed in November 2009.

The change reduced the cost of the project by approximately $1 million, while increasing reliability by cutting the number of collocated towers and building a new highway crossing far away from existing transmission lines. The change does impact more landowners along the Faith Home Road section of the project, including a mobile home park.

After Frantz proposed the new route, the entirety of which was included in environmental studies but never before suggested comprehensively as an alternative, TID staff took to the podium to display a graphic of the route and voice their full support for the suggestion.

“Staff thinks this recommendation is actually better than the recommendation that we made and we can support it,” said TID project manager Ed Jeffers.

The sudden change in staff opinion left audience member and nearby property owner David Yonan “dumbfounded.”

“You kinda lose some credibility when you say it’s (your recommended route) and here’s the reason why, and you come back out here and say this route is better,” Yonan said in an outburst, after public comment was closed. He went on to question if staff would find another, more superior route in 30 more minutes.

After the meeting Frantz clarified that he had discussed his idea with Jeffers prior to the meeting, but he too was caught by surprise with the graphic. The board’s decision to pick and choose segments of studied routes was confirmed as legal by TID counsel Jeff Harris.

After the 3-2 vote in favor of Frantz’s proposed route, an audibly agitated audience filed out of the board chambers.

Speaking on the doorstep of TID after the decision, Beekman expressed his displeasure with the directors’ failure to recognize Hughson’s planning.

“I just think fundamentally it’s a lack of acknowledgement of long-term planning,” Beekman said.

“It will impact. There’s no doubt.”


Irrigation season ends

At 4 p.m. on Sunday, the 2010 TID irrigation season came to its official end as workers shut off water gates at Turlock Lake and the final flows headed down the canals.

The final month of the season drew light water usage from TID customers, placing the district approximately 18,000 acre-feet below projections for the season. That’s despite an 11-day extension to the irrigation year, approved by TID Directors on Oct. 6.

TID staff had originally projected the extended season would result in sending an additional 16,000 to 25,000 acre-feet of water to customers, but only about 11,000 acre-feet was used in the 11-day period from Oct. 20 through Oct. 31.

The Oct. 31 close of the irrigation season was the latest end for an irrigation season since 1999.

To contact Alex Cantatore, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2005.

A prior version of this article erroneously reported that the chosen Euclid route costs more than the suggested Geer route, while providing reduced reliability. In reality, the Geer route alternative was projected to be more expensive and less reliable.Additionally, the article incorrectly reported TID Board Director Rob Santos's preferred route. Santos was the only board member to support the Geer Road route, not the Euclid Road route.

The article has been updated to reflect these changes.