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High court reverses ruling on $1B MSTI power line

The Montana Supreme Court has reversed a lower court’s ruling that the state did not adequately consult with Jefferson County officials while reviewing a proposed $1 billion transmission line that will carry power from the Townsend area into Idaho.

The Montana Standard reports that the high court reversed District Judge Loren Tucker’s September 2010 ruling against the state Department of Environmental Quality. Tucker barred the DEQ from releasing a draft environmental impact statement for NorthWestern Energy’s Mountain States Transmission Intertie until the county was adequately consulted.

The DEQ appealed, and the Supreme Court ruled that although state law requires the agency to develop the EIS and consult with Jefferson County before releasing a detailed statement, the agency is not required to consult with the county throughout the development of the EIS.

“The record reflects DEQ already has expended considerable effort to include Jefferson County in the environmental review process,” the ruling said. It added that the county would have “adequate legal remedies” after the agency releases its EIS and called the county’s lawsuit “premature.”

NorthWestern spokeswoman Claudia Rapkoch said the court’s decision “validates what we’ve thought all along.”

“I think when you read through the decision, it clearly states that NorthWestern has done a significant amount of communication about the project and we continue to.”

Rapkoch said lines of communication would remain open with Jefferson County and all other entities involved.

But Jefferson County Commissioner Tom Lythgoe called the ruling “shocking” and questioned whether the Supreme Court fully understood Judge Tucker’s decision requiring the state to more broadly consult with the county.

He said the county wanted a role throughout the process, “not just at the beginning and the end.”

The 345-mile, 500-kilovolt MSTI line is expected to carry mostly renewable energy generated in Montana to the Jerome, Idaho, area and to help customers fulfill new energy demand and renewable portfolio standards adopted by Western states.

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