ST. HELENA — St. Helena officials are urging regulators to order a stop to PG&E construction in the city after a local couple said they were blindsided by the utility’s plan to install a tower in their backyard.
Jessica and Kevin Hague were unaware of the proposed high-voltage transmission line support tower until a PG&E subcontractor came to their Hudson Avenue home around May 20 and told them about the tower in a subsequent phone call. A PG&E representative confirmed the plan to the Hagues on June 5.
The way the Hagues found out about the tower was “wholly inappropriate,” said Jessica Hague.
“This solution is intended to last for two generations – 150 years – and PG&E has taken no time to evaluate it, disclose it, describe it, or provide documentation for it,” Hague said.
On Tuesday, the council authorized staff to send a letter asking the California Public Utilities Commission to force PG&E to stop work until it clarifies the details of the project, obtains any necessary permits, and reduces impacts on the city and its property owners.
The city’s letter cites lack of adequate notice, undisclosed environmental and aesthetic impacts, a lack of clear legal authority to install the new tower, and PG&E’s failure to work with the city on possible alternatives such as undergrounding the lines or changing their alignment.
Councilmember Paul Dohring said he was “extremely disappointed” that PG&E didn’t send anyone to speak at Tuesday’s council meeting. PG&E owes the city and residents an explanation for the lack of notice, inadequate legal documentation, and discrepancies in PG&E’s project description, he said.
“They may need to do this elsewhere and we don’t even know about it yet,” Dohring said.
Work began in late April and is scheduled to end in October. The existing structures are between 50 and 85 feet tall, and one version of PG&E’s advice letter describes the replacement structures as “approximately 10 feet to 35 feet taller.”
The project is intended to enhance safety, reduce the risk of fire, and bring the line into compliance with state regulations.
On Friday, Deanna Contreras, a PG&E spokesperson, said Tuesday’s discussion at the St. Helena council meeting did not accurately reflect what PG&E is planning.
In order to strengthen the 12 miles of transmission line between Santa Rosa and St. Helena to reduce the danger of wildfires, PG&E plans to replace approximately 93 transmission towers and install one new “pole” in St. Helena she said.
The pole is needed along a span of 772 feet of lines that runs parallel to Hudson Avenue, between Birch and Spring streets in west St. Helena, Contreras said.
“The engineering plans were not, and have not, been finalized. We are in the process of engineering where that one pole will be inserted,” Contreras said in a written release.
Contreras said PG&E met Wednesday with three property owners along Hudson, including the Hagues. Company representatives showed them two engineering possibilities which would affect one of their properties, while a third possibility would affect a fourth property, she said.
“We’ll keep working with the city and the customers along Hudson Avenue to come to a resolution by late summer,” Contreras said. The work needs to be finished by October so the transmission line can be put back in service, she said.
Hagues and their neighbors have built a website, hudsonavenue.org, with information, documents, and links to contact elected officials.