Out With the Old: Lassen’s Lines to Go Underground

LASSEN VOLCANIC NATIONAL PARK — A lengthy environmental review process is underway for an extensive project to replace the aging utility infrastructure at the historic park headquarters in Mineral.

The current utility system – which encompasses power, water, wastewater, propane gas, and telecommunications – is “antiquated, ineffective, inefficient, and difficult to repair,” park Superintendent Darlene Koontz said in a press release. “In particular, above-ground power lines are susceptible to frequent damage during winter storms, and water and wastewater pipes suffer from chronic leaking.”

The administrative area and some of the residential structures – which lie outside park boundaries – were built in the late 1920s and ‘30s, said park spokeswoman Karen Haner. Additional housing units were added in a 1956-’66 facility upgrade effort.

An infrastructure upgrade would help protect cultural resources listed on the historic register, as well as improve safety for park staff and the community, increase energy efficiency, and lower labor and budget costs, officials say.

“We’re always looking at sustainability and how can we reduce our carbon footprint and our utility bills,” Haner said. “We do spend a fair share of our budget dealing with utilities.”

Actions under consideration include replacing existing overhead power lines with underground lines; removal of overhead lines; replacing water and sewer lines; updating telecommunication lines; replacing small, building-specific propane tanks with one large, centralized tank; improving drainage; installing solar panels; and increasing utility capacity at volunteer employee RV sites south of Highway 36.

A public scoping period to get comments about the initial work to plan the project ended in mid-January. Those comments will be considered in the next phase – working on the initial schematic and design.

The public will be asked to comment on the draft environmental assessment, likely during the summer, Haner said. The options for replacing the infrastructure will be outlined in this document, as well as possible impacts or considerations that need to be taken into account with each alternative, she said.

Following the period of public comment, a preferred alternative will be identified and recommended to Pacific West Regional Director Chris Lehnertz for approval of a “finding of no significant impact,” Haner said. With this finding’s approval, the environmental assessment would then be completed.

“Work is likely to begin in the summer of 2013,” Haner said. No cost estimates are available yet – “we won’t know till we get closer to the project.”

Replacing the old utilities also would align with the park’s ongoing efforts to become more ecologically friendly. Lassen has numerous “green” initiatives under way as part of its involvement in the National Park Service’s Climate Friendly Parks program.

For more information about Lassen park, visit www.nps.gov/lavo.

-Candace L. Brown has been a magazine and newspaper reporter and editor since 1992. She lives in Redding and can be reached at candace.freelance@gmail.com.

Photo courtesy National Park Service

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Candace L. Brown

Candace L. Brown has been a newspaper and magazine reporter and editor since 1992, including eight years at the Redding Record Searchlight. She lives in Redding and can be reached at candace.freelance@gmail.com.