Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Bonneville, Part 2

As noted earlier, Bonneville has LOTS of resources, spread out over 15,000 circuit miles of transmission lines, seven states, hundreds of substations, and all sorts of overlaying regions, maintenance districts, transmission line maintenance districts, offices, and more. Next week I head out and about into the field to see a "representative sample," or at least a hopefully representative sample, along the Columbia River, into Idaho and Montana, and across Washington. There is a LOT to see.

The point of this is continue the process of documenting the BPA Transmission System from a historic standpoint, in this case to update the current status of portions of the "Master Grid" as being eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. That document, prepared in 1986-87, determined some transmission lines significant, some substations significant, and many others not so, all within the original loop of the BPA system, the "Master Grid," that was completed by 1949. Everything else, by definition, wasn't historic. The scatter-shot approach created a huge management issue for BPA and, given that everything is connected and works as a "system" didn't make a lot of sense, at least from my standpoint.

Last year, in the first phase of my BPA work, I researched and wrote Corridors of Power, a historic context statement that essentially attempted to answer the research question "Did BPA do anything of historic significance after 1949 and, if so, do their resources effectively relate that significance?" [That's how we CRM people speak....pretty stilted, isn't it?]. Anyway, of course, as a major Federal agency with impact on virtually every sector of the Pacific Northwest, BPA did indeed accomplish much of significance after completing the Master Grid. More about that later. From a management standpoint though, the fact that much of its system could be considered historic, and so eligible for the NR, creates something of a challenge for an entity like BPA. As with any Federal undertaking, all their projects are subject to review under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act. But as a key element in the energy infrastructure in seven states (and, depending how you look at, in parts of western Canada and California as well), BPA has frequent need to update, modify, change and potentially impact every aspect of its "system" in ways that don't exactly mesh with normal historic preservation intent. Trying to craft a management plan that both honors the significant history of the Bonneville Power Administration and allows them an ability to continue to provide safe, efficient, and cost-effective service to millions of Americans, is the endgame in this year long project.

In the meantime, I will be driving around the PNW, craning my neck through the windshield, following T-lines to substations, and puzzling over questions such as "how many towers can you relocate before you adversely effect a corridor?" or "Are insulators important to integrity?" or "Does changing the loading door in an 1965 "Beautility"-designed substation constitute a loss of character?"

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