City Proposes Alternative Route for Electrical Project, Awaiting Response from DOE

December 4, 2017

Due to significant public interest in the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) project to establish a new 161kV electrical power line on top of Pine Ridge, the ridge that separates the Y-12 National Security Complex from the city center and adjacent neighborhoods, City of Oak Ridge officials have responded with an option to consider that minimizes the impact of the project.[1]

Several weeks ago, the NNSA advised of proceeding with plans to clear cut 2.1 miles of mature trees and vegetation along the crest of Pine Ridge. More than thirty (30) 79-foot Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) transmission towers will be erected along the top of the ridge after clear cutting occurs. Although DOE has been planning this initiative for at least two years, the City has not been engaged in the process or studying electrical options for serving the new Uranium Processing Facility (UPF).

Dale Christenson, Federal Project Director for NNSA’s UPF project, briefed City Council on the project scope at their November 7th work session. At their November 13th business meeting, City Council unanimously approved a letter, acknowledged by Christenson, requesting a postponement of the project in order to discuss alternative options. NNSA agreed to a two week delay.

Read the letter from the mayor's office here...

While the City of Oak Ridge is appreciative of the brief delay and an additional briefing by Christenson on November 29th, City officials are still awaiting response to questions raised at that meeting.

The DOE offered to consider painting or tinting the proposed poles as one way to mitigate the effects of these lines in a 100-foot wide clearing on the ridge line. The City inquired as to the feasibility of an alternate route using a different type of pole structure that would reduce height and reduce clearing width.

 “The City of Oak Ridge has been a supportive partner in the development of the UPF project on many fronts. This action shows disregard and a lack of attention to the planned directions of this community and its 30,000 citizens,” Oak Ridge Mayor Warren Gooch stated. “Public engagement is essential for the many demands placed on the Oak Ridge community and is required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The lack of engagement observed thus far is certainly counter to the principles of intergovernmental cooperation that DOE continues to espouse. This project will permanently scar the beautiful viewshed that attracts residents, visitors and their investment to our community.”

The DOE issued a “Categorical Exclusion Determination Form” in April 2016 stating that the proposed project would not “have the potential to cause significant impacts on environmentally sensitive resources,” and that “There are no extraordinary circumstances related to the proposal that may affect the significance of the environmental effects of the proposal.” The document,   prepared by a DOE official based in NNSA’s Amarillo, TX office, was not distributed to the City of Oak Ridge or other affected stakeholders.

“This action represents a significant departure from prior communication practices,” according to City Manager Mark Watson. “The DOE has always distributed NEPA documents to federal, state, and local officials, and in most cases communicated directly with the City before initiating any action. We obviously disagree that the route selected for this project does not incur environmental, social, and economic damage to our community. We recognize the importance of the UPF project to our nation’s interests. However, the federal government should have taken the time to consult with their host community.”

[1] As early as 2002, a Citizen’s Guide to the Environment, written by a large group of local citizen volunteers, acknowledged that Pine Ridge played a vital safety role in separating the industrial Y-12 National Security Complex from residential and business areas.  The proposed project encroaches on this natural barrier.