By Emily Wolfe Explore Big Sky Managing Editor

GALLATIN CANYON – NorthWestern Energy is continuing work this spring and summer to upgrade the transmission lines between the Jack Rabbit Substation near Four Corners, and the Meadow Village Substation in Big Sky.

Currently crews are clearing timber on Forest Service land, mostly in the Karst area (between milepost 55.1-55.4), and surveying the area between Hellroaring and the Meadow Village to identify locations for proposed power poles, according to NorthWestern Energy spokesman Butch Larcombe.

“We are investing about $34 million in this upgrade and it’s a big undertaking,” Larcombe said in an email. “The outcome will be more reliable service in the canyon and in Big Sky, one of our fastest growing areas in terms of requests for service.”

A lawsuit brought by a landowner in the canyon delayed the project’s progress on National Forest land, but U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy ruled in the favor of the Forest Service last fall, so NorthWestern Energy is moving ahead with the project.

Starting in mid-May, the utility company plans to begin clearing timber on a seven-mile stretch across private and public land between Karst and the Meadow Village. This work will go on through the summer and into the fall.

Construction of the actual 161-kilovolt transmission line will resume in early June and continue until November.

“We will not work on the line during the ski season, which is the time of peak electrical demand at Big Sky,” Larcombe said.

NorthWestern’s work will cause traffic delays on 191, and temporary closures or limitations on public access to Forest Service roads and trails are possible.

“We expect the delays to be sporadic and hopefully, brief,” Larcombe said. “We are working with the Forest Service and MDOT on ways to notify travelers of the delays. Like last year, there will be signs to warn motorists.”

There will again be helicopter work in the canyon related to the timber clearing and line construction, Larcombe said, adding that residents may notice activity in the Indian Ridge area, where NorthWestern is developing a storage site for equipment and supplies.

This project began last summer, and will continue in 2015, when NorthWestern Energy expects to energize the new line.