Comment period for proposed underground power cable project extended to Jan. 15th

BY HELGA GENDELL

The public comment period for a proposed underground power cable project has been extended to Friday, January 15th after a public outcry about safety, health and traffic issues in areas that would be affected by the project.

After several public meetings that local residents in Westchester, Del Rey and Mar Vista claimed had not been sufficiently advertised to the public, Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents the 11th District, was asked to intercede on behalf of his constituents’ concerns.

Rosendahl told The Argonaut that he had received input from residents at both a local farmers market and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP) project presentation meeting on the Santa Monica College Bundy Campus in Mar Vista on Tuesday, October 27th.

“I heard input at the farmers market about the issues of health risks, geological factors, the quality of life and traffic congestion,” said Rosendahl.

“The Mar Vista Transportation and Infrastructure Committee meeting was packed with individuals expressing their concerns, and in addition to asking for an ad hoc committee that would involve the Westchester, Del Rey and Mar Vista neighborhood councils, I spoke with David Freeman, the interim general manager of DWP, asking him to extend the public comment period until these concerns have been addressed by the DWP,” said Rosendahl.

The proposed DWP Scattergood-Olympic Line I project of approximately 12 miles of underground cable connecting the Scattergood Generating Station (SGS) in El Segundo at Vista del Mar and Grand Avenue, and Receiving Station K (RS-K) at Centinela Avenue and Olympic Boulevard, would provide additional capacity to supplement the Scattergood-Olympic Line II, DWP officials said.

The proposed project extends from RS-K in the north to the Scattergood station in the south, from Inglewood Boulevard in the east to Vista del Mar in the west, with commercial and residential areas directly adjacent on both sides of the alignment.

The proposed 230,000-volt transmission project would be constructed from mid-April 2010 through mid-2012, according to Underground Transmission Manager Vincent Curzi.

The underground circuit route begins at RS-K near the intersection of Olympic Boulevard and Centinela Avenue, and it will end at the Scattergood Generating Station.

A presentation at the meeting by committee member Bill Pope outlined the issues raised by individuals living in the communities that are most affected by the route of the project.

“The most troubling questions raised by residents were the potential health risks of living near the proposed high-voltage line,” said Pope.

“At a previous meeting, the DWP had said that the new line was needed as a backup for an existing line between the same two points that had become unreliable. In fact, the existing line exploded a few years back, requiring DWP to purchase power from out-of-state until repairs were made.

“Underground transmission lines must be constantly monitored for overheating, which can cause separation, coronas, arching and explosion in the half-second before safety relays kick in. A Westchester firefighter (Brent Lovrien) was killed in response to such an explosion in 2008,” said Pope.

Five DWP representatives presented their overview of the proposed project, which they said was needed to support Westside growth.

The residents on the affected streets asked why they should be forced to endure two years of construction noise, polluting exhausts from diesel-powered jackhammers, trenching and paving equipment, parking restrictions, snarled neighborhood traffic, and the possible health impacts of living in the magnetic fields generated by the high-voltage lines.

“These residents alleged that the project was planned to support the city’s desire for densification and to support development projects such as the Bundy Village and Medical Park proposed for Bundy Drive and Olympic Boulevard, and the massive Casden development proposed on Pico Boulevard between Sepulveda and Sawtelle boulevards,” Pope said.

Traffic, noise, parking and property values were concerns included in the opposition to the project being located on residential streets.

At the Westchester DWP presentation, Curzi had stated that there is a “critical need” for a new line because the Scattergood-Olympic Line II is not reliable, having experienced multiple failures and problems, with the loss of Line II limiting the power flow from the Scattergood Generating Station.

POPE’S PRESENTATION —

Pope raised a number of issues related to the proposed project including:

Why Inglewood Boulevard and Armacost Avenue? — DWP representatives said they chose these two streets rather than the more direct route of Centinela Avenue-Bundy Drive because they don’t want a problem on the original Scattergood-Olympic Line II to “take out” the new back-up line. They are also concerned about earthquakes taking out both lines on Centinela, said Pope.

Pope raised three issues regarding location:

n If a problem on one line could destroy another, should any of these lines be in residential neighborhoods?;

n There is a far greater likelihood of damage from earth movement on Inglewood Boulevard, which runs up and down a hill, than on Centinela Avenue, on flat ground; and

n On what other narrow streets have 230,000-volt power lines been run?

Risks from failure of 230,000-volt cables —

Underground power lines are susceptible to overheating, gapping and arching. Can these 230,000-volt cables (2,000 times higher than voltage in homes) spark, arc, explode and start fires when they fail, and could cable failure electrify the ground, causing electrocution risk? asked Pope.

Risk to Inglewood petroleum and natural gas pipeline(s) — Inglewood Boulevard already hosts a major petroleum pipeline and may also be a major natural gas pipeline, he said.

“A rupture or explosion could spew flaming oil over Mar Vista Hill and into neighborhoods below.

“Can DWP guarantee that a failure of its 230,000-volt line will not cause the crude oil and/or natural gas pipeline(s) to explode or catch fire? Will DWP covenant to assume all liability for all personal and property losses from both Line I construction and operation?” questioned Pope.

Risk of increased ground movement —In the last 20 years, there have been at least three land movements on the Mar Vista Hill section of Inglewood Boulevard, resulting in major damage to property and/or infrastructure, Pope said.

He asked if cutting a nine-foot-deep trench near and parallel to the bluff where slides have already occurred will increase risks of additional earth movement. Pope additionally asked if the near-surface to nine-foot-deep concrete cable housings and 12-foot-deep maintenance rooms would act like “wedges in a wound” that prevent healing, thereby weakening the hill’s surface layer and encouraging further ground movement.

He claimed that on sloping streets, house sewer lines are separating from the main sewer line, and he asked whether from ground movement or movement of the main sewer line, if placing the DWP power cable in the same area could increase this problem. Another question raised was if DWP will assume responsibility for fixing all breaks occurring within the city right-of-way.

Risks from magnetic and electric fields — high-voltage power lines generate both electric and magnetic fields. Burying power lines mitigates the electric fields, but not the magnetic fields, he said.

People are exposed to higher magnetic fields from underground power lines because the lines are on the same level where people live, walk and play.

Studies of magnetic field risks to humans have yielded mixed conclusions. Electrical engineers and utility companies say there is “no risk,” while laboratory studies on animals are inconclusive, and epidemiological studies on human populations find childhood leukemia, said Pope.

He said that the California Department of Health Services conducted a two-year, triple-blind study of all studies through 2002 and concluded, “Magnetic fields can cause some degree of increased risk of childhood leukemia, adult brain cancer, Lou Gehrig’s Disease, and miscarriage.”

“As of October 25th, the DWP does not know what level of magnetic field radiation is generated by their underground cables,” said Pope.

The mitigated negative declaration evaluated 17 categories of risks and impacts, such as construction noise, traffic and impacts to plants and wildlife, but risks to humans from power cable failure or magnetic fields were not included.

In response to concerns about dangerous magnetic fields, DWP representatives said that high-voltage lines “do generate magnetic fields” but they claimed there’s no conclusive evidence that such fields are harmful to humans, he said.

Pope demonstrated a perspective by overlaying a graph of magnetic fields generated by buried power cables that was obtained from the British National Grid and scaled per U.S. power company Pacific Gas & Electric’s (PG&E) magnetic field mitigation setbacks, over a picture of his street that showed the dangerous levels covering his front yard and reaching his house.

Other attendees claimed that the magnetic fields would penetrate homes that side on the planned streets.

The graphs used were for cables buried only a few feet or so, and show that the potential danger zone is approximately 70 feet wide, Pope explained.

“The DWP plans to bury the proposed power cables three to four feet, but they don’t know what magnetic field levels would result,” he claimed.

“I challenge the DWP to engineer their power line to contain the magnetic field to 33 feet, so that it would remain within the street where humans would not be impacted, or place their proposed new power line only on major or secondary highways at least 70 feet wide,” Pope said.

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