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Power station plans put on indefinite hold

By TONY BURCHYNS/Times-Herald staff writer
Posted: 01/30/2009 01:01:57 AM PST

Trail users who cringed at the idea of a power station in Lynch Canyon got some relief this week when the project's proponents announced an indefinite delay.

The delay -- announced Tuesday by the city of Fairfield -- will allow partnering officials more time to study possible locations for a substation and its impact on trails, said Marilyn Farley, executive director of the Solano Land Trust, which owns the pastoral Lynch Canyon reserve.

"It's really been an awful conflict for the Land Trust," Farley said. "The board wants to be a good neighbor, but also wants to protect our open space."

The idea of placing a substation in Lynch Canyon came about last year. But it wasn't publicly disclosed until recent months, which led to what some viewed as a controversial "hurry up" decision by the Solano Land Trust on Jan. 7 to explore the project.

On the one hand, the Land Trust's board wants to be a good neighbor to Fairfield and its trade unions, who are pushing hard for a proposed 500-900 megawatt power plant south of Cordelia Road. The project is tied to the proposed substation and would generate jobs and millions of dollars in yearly income for Fairfield -- two things that are perhaps more important now because of the poor economy.

The Land Trust itself could benefit financially. The nonprofit has been cutting employee hours and postponing conservation projects lately due to the state's budget standoff. But it could see a financial gain by allowing the substation to be built. And money is sorely needed for day-to-day operations, said board director Bob Berman of Benicia, who opposed building the substation despite any economic upsides.

"My first responsibility is protecting the properties we own," Berman said.

Dozens of people spoke out at a hearing before the board's vote, urging the directors to deny the project. But the board voted 6-5 to move forward.

"There were certainly enough issues to agree to have our staff explore the future possibility of placement of a switching station on the land suggested," said board member Al Lavezzo, who voted with the majority.

Lavezzo said the Land Trust would be substantially compensated, but any financial deals have yet to be worked out.

Kenn Browne of Vallejo, a Sierra Club member, said alternative sites should be considered. The proposed site is by the intersection of the Saddle Trail, Prairie Ridge Trail, South Valley Trail and Middle Valley Trail. And the substation would be visible from a nearby picnic area.

"It would be an eyesore," Browne said Thursday. "There are power lines there already ... but this would be on ground level. I just think it is inappropriate development for the open space up there."

Vallejo resident Brett Saunders -- who has done 200 hours of volunteer work at Lynch Canyon -- asked the board, "What are we giving up for what we are getting?"

American Canyon, which recently established an urban limit line to protect the eastern hills and vineyards to the north, also has objected to the proposed Lynch Canyon substation. The city owns the adjacent Newell property, an open space preserve that includes trails hooking into Lynch Canyon. But if all trails lead to a switching station, both open space resources could be diminished, said Brent Cooper, American Canyon's community development director.

Farley said the Land Trust will work with Fairfield and the project's proponent, Fairfield Energy Center LLC, to identify alternative locations for the substation, which is needed to transport any power south to Vallejo and the Bay Area.

The challenge, she said, is to balance the region's need for electricity and jobs with the Land Trust's mission of protecting open space.

"We'll continue negotiating to work things out," Farley said. "It's really been an awful conflict. The board wants to be a good neighbor, but it also wants to protect our open space."

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