NorthWestern Energy to analyze other locations for Clark Fork power line

Posted at 3:19 PM, Jul 24, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-24 19:37:27-04

MISSOULA – NorthWestern Energy crews have begun rebuilding a power line damaged by the flooding Clark Fork River even as the utility is taking a look at whether long-term plans might include a relocation for the transmission line.

The line — which crosses the river from the end of Tower Street — was heavily damaged in the floods in May. Now, conditions have dried out enough to allow crews to access the site and began replacing the half dozen poles that were torn out by the flood waters.

But at the same time, NorthWestern Energy is also discussing whether it may make sense to relocate the line, given how the floods have created new channels and changed the landscape around the crossing.

Utility company spokesman Butch Larcombe told MTN News that the line provides a critical link to carry power through the Missoula Valley but the river crossing may remain as it’s been the most efficient route.

“We try and find the most efficient ways to hook into substations and hook up with other transmission lines. So you find the most efficient route. Transmission lines are pretty expensive to build and maintain. So you don’t want to be dilly-dallying around,” Larcombe said.

It will take crews using specialized equipment about three weeks to repair the damaged lines.

MISSOULA – Weeks after a major power line was washed away by the flooding Clark Fork River, crews from Northwestern Energy are starting the tricky process of repairing the damage.

When the Clark Fork hit record flood levels in May it not only created major problems for residents living in low-lying areas, it also took out one of Northwestern Energy’s major transmission lines that serves the west side of the Missoula Valley. It took weeks for the water to recede. But now, crews are finally able to start repairs.

With crew safety and environmental concerns on the list, there are a lot of things to complicate the project.

“There is, yeah, and the fact there’s still running water through part of this area,” said Northwestern Energy Spokesman Butch Larcombe. “Then with the uncertain nature of the ground after the flooding and just rearranging things, it’s taken a while for us to be able to figure out what we need to do here. And we have brought in special equipment that will help us get this work done.”

Much of the damage is limited to the half dozen poles crossing, and closest to the river. But with the ground still muddy in spots, and new channels crossing the area, Northwestern is bringing in special equipment to tackle the job. Since this is a transmission line, utility customers won’t be effected. But restoring the line is critical to the overall Missoula power grid.

“No, we didn’t lose any power. But this is an important part of our electric infrastructure in the Missoula area,” Larcombe said. “It’s a 161 kilovolt line which carries a lot of electricity over a long distance and we rely on this to serve the Missoula area. But we were able to re-write the power so nobody lost power because of the damage here. But we do want to get it fixed and make us feel better about our ability to keep power on for everybody back up to full-functioning capacity.”

The city is also using this opportunity to remove debris and reconfigure trails around the new changes.

Northwestern Energy is not only repairing this line, they’re also looking at a possible relocation. But that will take some time to work out the details.

“But we have started some initial discussions within the company and we’re working with the city and some other people that would be concerned about a possible re-routing of a small portion of this line so we can get some of the poles out of the floodplain and avoid this problem in the future,” Larcombe said.

The repairs are expected to take about three weeks.

Reporting by Dennis Bragg for MTN News