Update on Planned PSE Upgrades
Island Resilience, June 2024

Update on Planned PSE Upgrades

By Caitlin Rothermel

In February 2024 in The Vashon Loop, Jenny Bell reported on Puget Sound Energy’s “tree wire” project, a PSE program working to clear roadside vegetation and upgrade Vashon’s power infrastructure. “Tree wire” is sturdy and well-insulated, and considered likely to fare well in storms, resist tree falls, and reduce the need for frequent or severe trimming of trees and vegetation. 

Relevant to Island residents, this project will impact street frontage – the trees and vegetation that provide a buffer between private property and roads. In many cases, this means that PSE infrastructure will need to be moved from the existing county right-of-way locations and further back, onto private property.

A number of residents have been contacted by PSE to request an easement for this work. Out of concern for the lack of local discussion before PSE’s implementation of the program, the Vashon-Maury Community Council has formed a PSE Activity Advisory Committee to better understand and address this issue.

Since February, the V-MCC PSE Activity Advisory Committee has confirmed that every pole on the Island is currently subject to 2007 “clear zone” regulations administered by King County (KC) Roads. And more specifically, as part of the 2019 KC franchise agreement with PSE, PSE must provide a plan to ensure that every Island electric pole is moved 10 feet back from the edge of the road. This will affect a large number of local private property owners. 

The following motions have been drafted and approved by the PSE Activity Advisory Committee, and approved by the V-MCC, and will inform the basis of the next discussions between V-MCC, PSE, and KC:

Motion 1: The V-MCC calls upon PSE to restore property rights enshrined in statute into new easement agreements entered into with Islanders, including updating the language of PSE’s Standard Overhead Easement Clause #4 to mirror the language of RCW 64.12.035(1)(c). In cases involving potential threats to PSE’s systems by vegetation, RCW 64.12.035(1)(c) requires that PSE “attempts written notice by mail … indicating the intent to act or remove vegetation and secures agreement from the affected property owner of record for the cutting, removing, and disposition of the vegetation.” Right now, PSE’s Standard Overhead Easement Clause #4 eliminates the requirement that PSE obtain, or even attempt to obtain, a property owner’s agreement. Out of respect for Islanders’ property rights, that should change. 

Motion 2: The V-MCC calls on King County (KC) Department of Local Services (DLS) to present a community wide public briefing summarizing the KC Roads “clear zone” program.

Motion 3: The V-MCC requests that KC pause the requirement that PSE “bring all non-compliant old poles into compliance” with the KC “clear zone” program (which PSE is pursuing through easement acquisition) until V-MCC, KC, and PSE have resolved PSE activity issues with the Vashon community with the creation of a comprehensive plan regarding traffic safety and upgrades in the electrical system, allowing Vashon-Maury Islanders the opportunity to express their preferred options to address Vashon’s just and unique needs as an island.

The V-MCC PSE Advisory Committee is also looking into potential “clear zone” variances and alternative power line strategies, such as undergrounding. 

All information in this story was obtained from the most recent V-MCC meeting and from the VMCC’s PSE Activity Advisory Committee’s FAQ document. To learn more and become engaged with this issue, contact the V-MCC PSE Activity Advisory Committee (https://www.v-mcc.org/committees) or attend the next V-MCC meeting.

June 6, 2024

About Author

caitlin I’m a member of the Vashon Loop Editorial Board and write about medicine, health, and society. I’m a research geek and an MPH, and I’m also a mom, farmer, teacher, and apocalypse librarian. I edit things. If I’m not doing something, it’s probably because I am asleep.