Note: This story was updated at 1 p.m.
The City of Oak Ridge this week provided information on what the power poles on Pine Ridge could look like.
The logging work to install the power line poles, or transmission towers, on top of Pine Ridge has been temporarily delayed for 45 days after Oak Ridge City Council members raised concerns in November and December.
One of the concerns for City Council members has been the potential visual impact the power poles could have on top of Pine Ridge. That prominent ridge in south Oak Ridge separates Y-12 from the center of the city.
So far, the National Nuclear Security Administration and its Uranium Processing Facility Project Office haven’t provided a visual representation of what the transmission towers could look like on top of the ridge.
On Tuesday, Oak Ridge City Manager Mark Watson and Electric Director Jack Suggs provided some visual comparisons to City Council members during a non-voting work session. Watson said a light pole at the city baseball field is about 80 feet. That’s close to the same size as the roughly 79-foot-high power poles expected on Pine Ridge.
Suggs passed out photos of a similar size H-frame or H tower power pole at Haw Ridge, which also has a right-of-way of about 100 feet, close to what is expected on top of Pine Ridge.
One key point: The transmission towers on Pine Ridge would not be the larger, steel lattice towers that might be most closely associated with high-voltage overhead power lines. Those towers can have a tapered shape and four corners or legs. They are generally over 100 feet, Suggs said.
The towers on Pine Ridge would be the shorter H towers, which would likely be less noticeable.
But Council members still want more information.
Oak Ridge City Council member Ellen Smith said the city needs a visual representation of what the towers would look like on Pine Ridge. The city also needs a written analysis of the alternatives that have been considered, Smith said.
“That’s something that is expected under the law,” she said.
There are other questions that Council members want answered that haven’t been answered. One of those questions is: Can the Y-12 power lines come in from the west side of the 811-acre site rather than from the so-called Huntsville line to the east?
Right now, city officials can’t answer that question. Suggs said he doesn’t have access to information that includes, for example, whether some of those lines to the west are being used and whether they could be used.
Oak Ridge Mayor Warren Gooch expressed frustration that city officials can’t currently answer those types of questions.
“It is absolutely incumbent for the NNSA to have a public hearing and answer these questions,” Gooch said. (Y-12 is an NNSA site.)
Other questions raised by Gooch included how many logging trucks would be coming in and out of Y-12 each day, what roads would they use, and what about other vehicles that might be traveling on city roadways during the logging operation and power line installation work, such as gravel trucks.
The city has a duty to protect its citizens, Gooch said. In the meantime, the City Council and city staff are doing the best they can with the information they have, Gooch said.
Here are some of the primary concerns raised by City Council members: They said they didn’t have adequate notice of the logging work, there had been no public input, and they didn’t know what other options had been considered and why some had been rejected. They said cutting down trees and replacing them with transmission towers on top of the ridge would affect the view in that part of the city, including from two residential neighborhoods, Scarboro and Groves Park Commons.
The National Nuclear Security Administration recently granted the 45-day discussion period for the electrical substation project, which includes the logging work on top of Pine Ridge. Oak Ridge officials had requested a 30-day delay of the logging work.
The 161-kilovolt power lines will provide electricity to a new electrical substation that will service all of Y-12, but it is being built as a subproject of the Uranium Processing Facility. It would be near UPF on the west side of Y-12. UPF is the largest federal construction project in Tennessee since World War II, and it is expected to be completed by 2025 at a cost of no more than $6.5 billion.
Oak Ridge officials have emphasized that they support the project, but they don’t think the city has been treated as an equal partner on the electrical substation and power line portion of the project.
The City of Oak Ridge has said the electrical substation project would involve clear-cutting 2.1 miles of mature trees along the top of Pine Ridge.
Some logging activity is still expected to occur during the 45-day delay, but those initial logging operations will occur at a point farthest from the city, said Dale Christenson, federal project director in the UPF Project Office. Those operations “will not prevent NNSA from acting on any reasonable mitigation approach that may be suggested,” Christenson said in a December 11 letter to Oak Ridge City Manager Mark Watson.
During the 45-day discussion period, the NNSA will not take any action that commits it to “any particular approach to the siting of this transmission line,” Christenson said.
Logging operations, which would be on U.S. Department of Energy property, had initially been scheduled to start Thursday, November 16, and the NNSA had earlier agreed to a two-week delay. The logging work has to occur between November 16 and March 31 in order to not affect three species of bats in Tennessee.
Oak Ridge officials have said that the NNSA project would erect more than 30 Tennessee Valley Authority transmission towers that are 79 feet high along the top of the ridge after trees and brush are cleared.
Oak Ridge Today has counted five current sets of power or utility lines on the north and south sides of Pine Ridge, with a H tower-type power or utility line and a single pole-type power line along Bear Creek Road on the south side of Pine Ridge, at the main entrance to Y-12; a lattice tower-type power line higher on the slope on the north side of the ridge, the city side, that appears to cross over the ridge top; and another H tower-type power line and another single pole-type power line lower on the north side of the ridge.
See our previous story here.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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