Hard feelings over the Turlock Irrigation District's plan for a power line route, contested by Ceres City Hall and many neighbors to the south, spilled over Tuesday into a Stanislaus County supervisors meeting.
Neighbors say a 115,000-volt transmission line would hurt property values and could harm their health. Farmers have threatened to sue if nearby cows give less milk. Ceres' mayor says his council will consider "legal options," too.
The TID wants to build a substation on Grayson Road east of Crows Landing Road, and string a power line 10 miles east to Geer Road near Hughson. A 69,000-volt line would run a short distance northward from the substation to the TID's Almond Power Plant, which began operating in 1995.
David Yonan, whose family farms south of Ceres, told supervisors that the TID could avoid conflicts by running a line along a canal that the TID owns about 2,200 feet to the south of its preferred route along Grayson Road. He cited the county's documented hope to eventually widen Grayson.
"We're all going to have to pay for this twice," Yonan said.
That's because "power poles would be smack dab in the middle of a future travel lane," Ceres Councilman Chris Vierra said after the meeting.
Matt Machado, the county's public works director, said no money has been set aside to widen Grayson, a "Tier 2" priority that could take 20 years to fund. But Vierra said Ceres has been collecting development fees and disputed a consultant's claim that the widening is not a "reasonably foreseeable project."
TID board members last week postponed a decision on the power line, partly to explore alternative routes. Vierra, who spoke on the city's behalf at the meeting, said TID staff was directed to meet with Ceres leaders but they haven't connected yet.
TID spokesman Steve Boyd said Tuesday he did not know when the matter might return to the TID board.
Ceres is in a tricky position because the city badly needs a power upgrade, especially if it hopes to expand southward, which it does.
The new transmission line would boost the TID's "capa-city for future load growth," increase reliability of its entire system and relieve power congestion, according to environmental documents.
But Ceres took issue when the TID's consultant ignored the city's concerns, Mayor Anthony Cannella said in a letter dated Nov. 10. The city hopes to improve Faith Home Road and Central Avenue in addition to Grayson, he said.
"The council will seriously consider the city's legal options regarding a challenge to the adequacy of the environmental document," Cannella wrote.
Vierra said Tuesday, "The city of Ceres is 100 percent supportive of the project because it is needed." But the TID's preferred route might mess up the city's plan for a new Highway 99 interchange with Mitchell Road, he said.
Complaints from rural neighbors along the preferred route "have fallen on deaf ears," Yonan said. "I am disheartened to say the project only serves to save the wallet of the TID at the cost of the very ag interest it serves."
An alternate route along the TID's "Lateral 2½" canal would be 6,162 feet longer, requiring an extra 34 poles, Strachan Consulting reported in an environmental document. That line also would bisect properties, further eroding farmers' operations, the consultant said.
But the preferred route isn't looked on kindly by other farmers. Dairyman Gary Marchy charged the TID in a letter with "taking away our rights to utilize our land as we see fit."
Marchy hired an "electrical specialist" who would analyze milk production before and after line installation, and Marchy "will hold TID accountable for any loss," he wrote.
"Please protect our rural Roeding neighborhood from your potentially dangerous and certainly unsightly electrical plans," pleaded Patricia Cousins in a letter. "Don't destroy our rural way of life."
Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2390.