After hearing nearly an hour of public comment Tuesday, the Merced Irrigation District’s board of directors unanimously voted to table action on a power line project intended to increase reliability and capacity for the public utility company.
The project, formally in the works since 2011, would erect power poles and lines on private residential property and agricultural land. Residents who oppose the project complain the power lines would decrease property values, diminish aesthetics and pose possible health risks.
MID, which serves 8,300 customers in Merced County, is seeking approval to install 13 miles of new lines on the edge of the city limits in order to serve expected growth. It wants to have the lines operational by fall 2017.
The district staff recommended the board certify a final environmental impact report published on Sept. 1 and approve the overall project. But, after hearing comments from more than 10 residents, several board members said they wished to consider other options, such as possible alternate routes. The decision to table the agenda item was met with applause from dozens in the audience.
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“This has been very, very difficult,” said Scott Koehn, the board’s vice president. “But I have to do the right thing. You asked us to do the right thing, and that’s what it comes down to.
“This is a huge project for this district,” he said. “It’s a project I support 100 percent. I also support 100 percent making sure we’re doing things as well as we possibly can. To me, a big, big part of that is to leave the least amount of imprint of new infrastructure as we possibly can. I think we still have alternatives.”
The board asked to hold a workshop to further discuss the project, other possible routes and its options regarding the final environmental report.
Some who spoke about the project took issue with the environmental impact report and the California Environmental Quality Act process. Board director Kevin Gonzalves said he believes the study, conducted by an environmental services firm hired by the district, is “flawed.”
Amanda Priest, executive director of the Merced County Farm Bureau, said the CEQA process seemed rushed. She said the three-month turnover rate between the draft and final reports was short and that the MID could have better publicized the comment period.
Randy Bertuccio, a resident who lives on Wardrobe Avenue near the power line route, said the board’s decision to table action was encouraging. Bertuccio, who said he has closely followed the project, urged the board to consider alternate routes that would affect fewer residents.
“I’m proud of the board,” he said. “They listened to us. I hope we can work with MID side by side and come up with a route that works for both of us.”
Brianna Calix: 209-385-2477