DEQ Says Power Line Construction Violated Permit

By Beacon Staff

GREAT FALLS – State environmental regulators say the company building a power line between Montana and Alberta has violated conditions of its permit.

The Department of Environmental Quality is not proposing any civil penalties for Tonbridge, but plans to continue weekly inspections of the work, which is being done from an area south of Cut Bank to the Canadian border.

Tonbridge CEO Richard van’t Hof said the company accepted responsibility for the errors and has ordered reviews of procedures to address the DEQ’s concerns about the $215 million Montana Alberta Tie Line that is to run between Great Falls and Lethbridge, Alberta.

DEQ Director Richard Opper wrote to Tonbridge Power listing three issues: excessive ruts left in wet ground, the disturbance of a Native American archaeological site and complaints from landowners that Tonbridge wants to place poles too far from fence lines.

Opper said in one case, a crane sunk into the ground so far that a backhoe was needed to extricate it and noted that protection of wetlands has dominated discussions between the DEQ and Tonbridge.

“I would have expected you to ensure your construction crew avoided wet soils at all costs, regardless of whether they were officially designated wetlands,” Opper wrote in a letter dated Nov. 22.

The Great Falls Tribune reports van’t Hof argued the ruts do not rise to the level of a permit violation, partly because the permit lacks a clear definition of “severe” rutting and because the permit allows for reclamation of such areas. He also said Tonbridge has notified contractors to use more timber mats in areas where rutting may occur.

van’t Hof did acknowledge a contractor ran over a rock in a teepee ring, apparently after stakes placed to mark the area were knocked down by cattle. Tonbridge is taking steps to avoid what he called an “unacceptable incident.”

He said the company has previously been marking the boundaries of archaeological sites and not individual features.

“This site was very extensive with several individual features included,” van’t Hof wrote. “While some of the individual stone circles are quite impressive and recognizable, others (like the one driven across) are difficult to identify by untrained professionals.”

He said the company will mark archaeological sites more specifically and no sooner than two weeks before construction work is planned.

The DEQ also notified Tonbridge that it was hearing complaints from landowners that Tonbridge is negotiating easements that would place poles well inside field boundaries. Opper said that would be considered a violation if it continued.

Van’t Hof said the poles are placed on the field boundaries where reasonable, but noted that isn’t always possible. He also noted the permit allows a 500-foot corridor for pole placement.

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