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Hagerty: 600 miles of blight from Lassen to the Bay

How do you spell "blight?"

Out here in Oakdale we spell it TANC.

Much has been written recently about the planned invasion of Northern California by the juggernaut known as the Transmission Agency of Northern California.

A partnership of five of the 15 utility districts and cities within the agency proposes to install 600 miles of menacing power lines across our landscape.

Now, you may think that my reaction is a typical NIMBY -- that is, "not in my back yard."

Well, you are close. Actually it is NIMFY, because these infernal lines are proposed to run right across my front yard.

My home sits on a hill, looking east to the distant mountains of Yosemite. When we have visitors I point to the horizon and say, "Look just to the right of the big oak tree and you will see Yosemite." Now it will be more like "Look just through the third tower, under the lines, and hopefully you can make out the mountains."

We live next to Highway 108/120, which proudly has signs identifying this route as the "North Yosemite Highway." It meanders through some very interesting country, including Lover's Leap, oak groves, some incredible geological strata, and lots of 160-year-old stone fences erected by Chinese workers after the Gold Rush.

Yep, TANC proposes marching right down 20 miles of this scenic route to the Sierra. Perhaps we can change the signs to read "Welcome to the Pole Line Pike."

The proposed lines will cross through Del Rio Country Club homes, down the Stanislaus River, even over the home of one Stanislaus County supervisor.

Who was responsible for this ill-conceived plan? My 5-year-old grandson could have drawn a better map with his Crayolas.

Incredibly, there was no public notice of this plan until the absolute last days of the public input period. A concerted howl from folks all across Northern California caused the input period to be extended, but the plan is still on the drawing board. There is belated talk of adjusting lines and routes. We wonder why they waited for the complaints before making some reasonable adjustments.

In fact, the better question: Why do we need 600 miles of "ugly" along any routes in Northern California?

In my 30-year career as a real estate developer, never once was I allowed to place a utility line above ground. The absolute, inviolable rule: "Bury the lines, or forget your project."

Yet, these folks have decided that is too expensive and difficult to go underground, so 600 miles of blight is on their agenda. (This from the same public utility mentality that brought you a dam and an artificial lake in a national park near you.)

There is now a glimmer of hope on the horizon, however. After recent public hearings, news articles and editorials, and perhaps some serious soul searching, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District has decided to withdraw from the project. SMUD represents 35 percent of the entire project investment, and this will be a major blow to those remaining.

We can only hope that the things that SMUD has seen to enlighten them will soon become apparent to the other players, including our own Modesto Irrigation District.

Hagerty is an Oakdale real estate developer active in community nonprofits. E-mail him at columns@modbee.com.

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