MEA will have to bury its new transmission line into Wasilla

Zaz Hollander

Matanuska Electric Association will have to bury a massive new transmission line running into Wasilla under the terms of a city permit approved Tuesday night.

Citing a need to protect the Parks Highway scenery that flanks the first three miles on the city's eastern edge, the city planning commission voted 5-1 to approve the permit Matanuska Electric needs to build the line -- but only if it goes underground.

MEA needs to connect existing lines at Mat-Su Regional Medical Center with a downtown substation now that a power plant is going up at Eklutna. The cooperative's preferred aboveground route would have plotted 80- to 100-foot transmission towers along the highway with sweeping views to the Chugach Mountains. City officials balked, saying the project would spook future developers and stymie expansion.

MEA's preference would cost $9.75 million but burying the line will cost $40 million, according to its own estimates.

Commission member Jesse Sumner cast the lone vote against the permit. Sumner also made a motion that the group first take a vote on MEA's aboveground route; that motion died for lack of a second.

Next, MEA plans to ask the Regulatory Commission of Alaska to approve a special rate area for Wasilla so city residents and businesses pay extra to cover any additional costs to meet the city's demands, MEA general manager Joe Griffith said as he left the commission meeting.

The commission did remove an earlier proposal that MEA bury the line in a "utilidor" -- an underground passage to carry utility lines -- that would make burying the line even more expensive.