LA GRANDE — Construction of the Boardman to Hemingway (B2H) electric transmission line might do what Father Time’s corrosive hand has not — destroy the last remaining remnants of the Oregon Trail in Union County.
This is the fear of Lanetta Paul, a passionate Oregon Trail supporter who lives in the Morgan Lake area.
Paul, who has led many people on tours of the Oregon Trail from the area near her home to Hilgard State Park, 7 miles away, is among those working to have the proposed B2H route changed so that it is far from Union County’s Oregon Trail ruts, allowing them to remain a tangible link to this region’s story.
This is critical, she said, for there will be no second chances when it comes to preserving what’s left of the Oregon Trail.
“Once it is gone, it is gone forever,” Paul said. “It is a piece of history lost.”
Gail Carbiener, of Bend and a member of the Oregon-California Trail Association, shares Paul’s concern.
“(The proposed B2H line) can’t help but have an impact,” Carbiener said.
He noted the equipment brought in would be enormous, with some items such as cranes weighing close to 100,000 pounds.
More than ruts are at risk by the proposed B2H line. Williams said the proposed project’s plan calls for a large tower to be built in the middle of an area that was a campsite for pioneers. He said numerous artifacts have been found at the site with a metal detector within the past two years during searches he assisted.
The La Grande resident said he fears if a tower is placed at the campsite, the Oregon Trail artifacts buried underneath it may be lost forever.
Carbiener notes today there are still passages at and near the Blue Mountain Crossing Interpretive Center 16 miles west of La Grande where the Oregon Trail can be seen in a setting where there are no power lines, buildings or roads.
“You can walk there today and see exactly what the Oregon Trail pioneers saw,” Carbiener said.
He said the transmission line, if installed as proposed, would rob people of this opportunity in some areas.
A statement sent to The Observer from Idaho Powder archaeologist Shane Baker said with regard to the Oregon Trail, the company is sensitive to the concerns expressed by Carbiener, Paul and others.
“Idaho Power is very aware of the historic significance of the Oregon Trail, as well as other historic trails and resources in the area of the proposed project, and did everything reasonably possible to protect and consider the trail during the process of selecting a proposed route,” the statement read.
Idaho Power officials noted the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center just outside Baker City and the Birch Creek area in Malheur County are examples where several steps were taken in its route proposal to protect the Oregon Trail. The company said it is committed to minimizing visual impacts by using lower tower designs that are more consistent with existing transmission towers.
Carbiener said the Oregon-California Trails Association is taking steps to protect the Oregon Trail, such as attempting to get all portions of the historical trail along the B2H route put on the National Register of Historic Places. Carbiener hopes it will help sway PacifiCorp, the Bonneville Power Administration and Idaho Power to alter the proposed B2H route so the Oregon Trail is not affected.
“It may not legally keep them from following the B2H route now proposed,” Carbiener said, “but it may discourage them.”