Three federal agencies heard from members of the public Wednesday night on plans to upgrade the communication towers atop Marys Peak.
The Bonneville Power Administration, the United States Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management participated in the remote session, with the BPA the lead agency on the project. The BPA released a draft environmental assessment Oct. 13 that was written with the cooperation of the other two agencies. A total of 18 individuals from the three agencies were panelists on the session.
The BPA wants to upgrade the Marys Peak summit facility, the draft report says, “because the communications equipment at the site is outdated and needs to be replaced and because the communication structure is unstable."
Key questions asked by those who participated involved environmental impacts, especially how rare and endangered species might be affected. During the last major work on the summit towers, a fence project in 2011, weeds and gravel were introduced on the site from a project subcontractor, said Corvallis resident Dave Eckert of the Marys Peak Alliance. The group works to educate the community on the ecological and cultural importance of the mountain.
Ben Younce, the project manager for the BPA, said that an environmental monitor will be on site whenever outdoor activities or ground disturbance are taking place with the planned work. Younce added that the monitor will be hired by the BPA and not any contractor or subcontractor. Construction vehicles also must be washed before heading up to the summit.
The BPA report lists three possible approaches to the upgrade. Technically a no-action option exists but is unlikely. The action alternatives are:
• Alternative 2A: A linkup of the current BPA site with the Albany substation on Southwest Queen Avenue.
• Alternative 3C: A new Marys Peak site on Forest Service property linked with the Albany substation. This option would mean the dismantling of the current BPA building.
• Alternative 4: The West Point spur/Consumers Power Inc. site about a mile west of the summit linked with a facility at Prospect Hill in Marion County,
Younce noted that 3C is the current favorite, although no final decision has been made. Eckert argued in favor of No. 4 because the West Point site is 200 feet lower than the 4,101-foot summit and the equipment would be more protected from the weather. Younce said Eckert's approach had not previously been considered and agreed it was worth looking at.
Previous public sessions and contributed testimony included comments from individuals supporting the facilities upgrade because of its value for regional emergency and non-emergency communications for federal and state agencies, local governments, law enforcement and fire service. However, no one who submitted questions Wednesday favored the project.
The next steps for the BPA include a spring 2021 release of the final environmental assessment, the required National Environmental Policy Act decision later in 2021, with construction on any action alternative set for 2022. The scoping of the project began in 2016.
Cost estimates for the three preferred action alternatives range from $700,000 for No. 4 to $1 million for 3C. Option No. 2 is projected at $800,000. Funds would come from BPA's capital improvement program.
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