The Bonneville Power Administration communications facility on Marys Peak needs to be replaced. The BPA’s highest priorities for a new facility are employee safety and continuity of service. The BPA assessment indicates that, of the various alternatives, three are viable and fulfill both requirements — Alternatives 2a, 3c and 4. The Marys Peak Alliance recommends Alternative 4: moving BPA equipment into the Consumers Power facility on Marys Peak West Point. We do not recommend Alternatives 2a or 3c, which involve construction of new facilities on the Marys Peak summit. Following are our reasons for this recommendation.
Improved BPA employee safety: The Marys Peak summit has extreme, dangerous and unpredictable weather, with up to 100 mph winds and sub-freezing temperatures. Employees must risk their lives to access damaged equipment during these regular extreme weather events when there is no available road clearing equipment. The most dangerous, icy stretch of Marys Peak Road is beyond the West Point Spur Road turnoff. Without communication services available during icy conditions, the lives of BPA field employees throughout the Oregon Coast Range are at risk. At West Point, the weather is less extreme.
Improved BPA continuity of communication service: Since West Point facilities experience fewer outages than those on the summit, the BPA will have a more reliable continuity of service on West Point than it will on the Marys Peak summit. Consumers Power, which manages the West Point communication facility, has not had a communication failure in 12 years.
Reduced BPA construction costs: The BPA assessment indicates the lowest-cost option is to move the BPA communication equipment into the existing Consumers Power communication facility on West Point. No new facility needs to be constructed.
Reduced BPA maintenance costs: Reduced equipment maintenance at West Point reduces costs, with fewer maintenance trips and equipment replacement parts and less repair time.
Reduced public safety risks: BPA trucks regularly drive the unpaved road from the Marys Peak parking lot to the summit. This road is hiked by 100,000-plus annual visitors. Such high truck usage creates increased risk to public safety and road deterioration.
Reduced public health risks: A BPA representative has stated that evidence of health impacts of VHF waves on Marys Peak visitors is inconclusive. The BPA considers the impacts safe. “Inconclusive” does not mean something is safe. The BPA must not gamble the health of 100,000-plus annual visitors to Marys Peak on inconclusive evidence.
Compliance with Forest Service management obligations: The U.S. Forest Service must approve BPA's choice of an alternative if it involves USFS land. The Marys Peak summit is a scenic botanical special interest area, a high-level federal protection classification. It requires the USFS to protect the unique plant communities in the vicinity of the BPA communications facilities and to protect the visual quality and recreational resources. Alternative 4 will improve visual quality at the summit by removing the BPA building and towers and reducing the area enclosed by the fence. Alternative 4 on West Point avoids further damage and allows restoration of sensitive land at the top of the peak, plus it avoids introduction of invasive plants during construction as has happened in past construction projects.
The Marys Peak Alliance concludes that the West Point option (Alternative 4) best meets the BPA’s two highest priorities, employee safety and continuity of service. It is the least expensive viable option and the best option for the USFS to comply with mandated environmental obligations. It is the best option for the health, safety and enjoyment of the public. We urge the public to contact the BPA to support Alternative 4, siting of the new BPA communication site on West Point, rather than on the Marys Peak summit.
Dave Eckert is a member of the Marys Peak Alliance, an arm of the Alliance for Recreation and Natural Areas. This column represents the views of the Marys Peak Alliance Steering Committee.