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Residents & environmentalists protest Sunrise powerlink

Not in my backcountry. That's the cry of residents and environmentalists alike in protest of San Diego Gas and Electric's Sunrise Powerlink. The proposed 120-mile transmission line would travel from Imperial County through North San Diego's backcountry. Critics of the plan spoke out yesterday at a meeting of the California Public Utilities Commission in Ramona. KPBS reporter Beth Ford Roth was there, and has this report.

Opponents of the Sunrise Powerlink gathered in a circle before the meeting at the Ramona Community Center, and held a sort of pep rally outside in the sunshine.

A woman named Kathleen from Julian sang her own version of a favorite folk song
(This land is your land, this land is my land )

The Sierra Club's Kelly Fuller reminded the local folks who'd shown up to speak before the PUC what was at stake.

Fuller: We're talking about protecting not only the birds up in the sky and the trees around us, but your homes and your families, and please don't forget that.

The roughly four hundred people who came to the meeting packed into community center. Many had to stand. Some spilled out through the doorways outside. A handful sat cross-legged in front.

The vast majority spoke in opposition to the powerlink.

SDG&E hasn't yet decided which of three proposed routes the Sunrise Powerlink will follow. But James Ward of Anza Borrego State Park says each one of them, and the 150-foot towers that go with the line, would unfortunately run through the Anza-Borrego.

Ward: The state park is taking the brunt of these power transmission lines, and it will change forever Anza Borrego Park for our future generations, we owe it to our children, and their children, to keep our park intact as it is.

Others question whether the transmission line is even needed. Ramona resident Rick Tallman put it bluntly.

Tallman: This project is an unnecessary one-point-four billion dollar boondoggle, if you live in San Diego County, and if you pay an electric bill to SDG&E, you should also be concerned about this project.

But SDG&E spokeswoman Stephanie Donavan insists the Sunrise Powerline is essential to maintain a reliable source of power for the region.

Donavan: All of our best information tells us that we will need this powerline in order to keep the lights on, we have a reliability issue, and simply put, that means we may have a shortfall, that means there may be less electricity available than we expect people will need by the year 2010.

SDG&E is expected to decide at the end of February which route it will select for the Sunrise Powerlink. It will then bring that proposal to the PUC for approval.

SDG&E wants to start building the transmission line by 2010.

Residents of the backcountry hope the commission will take a closer look at other options.

Beth Ford Roth, KPBS News.

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