A group of 74 people who own property hugging the Lake Washington shoreline near Bellevue, Newcastle and Renton is suing Puget Sound Energy over the utility’s proposal to build power lines on nearby Eastside Rail Corridor land.
The property owners, eager to preserve their views and to see the corridor transformed into a lush pedestrian and bicycle trail, claim the utility doesn’t have the right to install power lines there. The route is one of two PSE is considering for the southern stretch of a proposed, 18-mile power line that would run from Renton to Redmond.
A more than century-old agreement between railroad companies and the original property owners of parcels that make up the corridor limited the land’s use to railroad activity, according to the lawsuit.
In fact, the property owners contend their parcels were never completely sold to BNSF Railway: Only a right of way to build tracks on the corridor’s ground surface was sold to the company, they say. The lawsuit claims that when BNSF sold the right of way, or easement, to the Port of Seattle in 2008, it did not have the power to sell subsurface and aerial rights of way to PSE for a power-line route.
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The Port of Seattle nonetheless sold subsurface and aerial easement rights to PSE in 2010, according to the lawsuit, which was filed last week in Snohomish County Superior Court. The suit was filed against PSE, King County — which still owns rights to design public trails on a southern portion of the corridor — and the Port of Seattle.
But for most of the four-mile lakeside part of the corridor stretching from Gene Coulon Memorial Beach Park in Renton to Newcastle Beach Park in Bellevue, only owners of parcels connected to the corridor have the right to sell an easement for a purpose other than railroad or trail activity, said the plaintiffs’ attorney, Richard Aramburu.
Scott Kaseburg, 65, is suing because he owns one of those parcels.
“It’s like if I give you permission to play with your dog on my lawn, you can’t just turn around and sell permission to do other things on my lawn to other people,” said Kaseburg.
PSE, King County and the Port of Seattle said they are reviewing details of the lawsuit. They declined to comment on the specifics.
PSE spokesman Andy Wappler said the new power lines would help accommodate booming population and economic growth on the Eastside. He said the area’s population is at least six times as big as when the existing power lines were constructed in the 1960s, and more growth is projected for the coming decades.
Asked if the lawsuit would cause PSE to throw out the option of running the line through the railroad corridor, Wappler said no decisions would be made until later this year. He said PSE has dedicated 2014 to gathering public input before applying for permits in early 2015.
“If the communities can create consensus about where they want the route to go, that’s the route we’ll use,” Wappler said.
Ever since BNSF abandoned the railroad, Kaseburg and others in the area have wanted King County to turn the space into a pedestrian and bicycle trail. The county is expected to come up with a design for the trail by the end of 2015.
In addition to new power lines being an eyesore on the shoreline, Kaseburg says vegetation surrounding the power lines would have to be cleared, obliterating any chance of developing an attractive shoreline trail.
“It makes no sense to be building this on the lake,” Kaseburg said. “We’re adamant PSE can’t do this. They have a lot of options and there’s no reason for them to spoil this area’s hopes for a trail.”
When PSE announced in December its Energize Eastside project plans for a new set of high-capacity power lines, it released a map showing several potential paths for the 18-mile power-line route. Included was a route between Renton and Redmond where power lines have been in place since the 1920s.
So far, the plans have sparked skepticism in neighborhoods throughout the Eastside. In addition to the Renton, Newcastle and Bellevue shoreline areas, Bellevue’s Somerset neighborhood and Kirkland’s South Rose Hill neighborhood have been active at community meetings PSE has already held on the project.
“We’re working to answer as many questions as we can. You can actually wait to do all this public engagement until after you apply for permits, but we wanted to get out ahead of that,” Wappler said. “The downside of that approach is we don’t always have all the answers people want yet.”
Alexa Vaughn: 206-464-2515 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @AlexaVaughn.