A decision facing voters on whether to chip in to pay for the burial of high-voltage power lines is getting bigger.
Last month the Salt Lake County Commission decided to put a proposal on next November's ballot to ask residents of the unincorporated county whether they should all help pay for burial of high-voltage lines.The catalyst for the decision was a proposed high-voltage line along Fort Union Boulevard. Now, another line between South Salt Lake and Murray has entered into the mix.
Utah Power has estimated burial cost of the Hammer-Butlerville line along Fort Union Boulevard at between $2.4 million and $3.3 million.
The Midvalley-Cottonwood power line, which Utah Power now wants to upgrade to 138-kilovolt capacity, would cost an estimated $2.9 million to $4 million to bury.
About a third of the line is located in South Salt Lake, but "I don't believe the mayor is even aware of (the voltage upgrade)," said an assistant to Mayor Randy Fitts, who is out of town.
South Salt Lake would have the option to join the special service district that would be created if voters approve November's proposal. So far, neither South Salt Lake nor any other city has made any overtures, though "I think the cities would be wise to do that," said commission attorney Gavin Anderson.
If voters reject the county's proposal (only residents of the unincorporated areas would vote on the matter), Utah Power will probably be allowed to build the lines above ground, according to Commissioner Brent Overson. Otherwise, the commission would have come up with the money from some other source, robbing Peter to pay Paul as it were, and such an approach would be a financial headache in addition to being politically unpopular given that voters had already expressed their preference.
In the middle of all this lies Utah Power. The company isn't thrilled about having to wait all the way until next fall to get a decision, but "I don't know what we can do to forestall that," said spokesman David Eskelsen. "We've told the county we'd work with them."
Eskelsen said if the lines are not built by summer 1999 - and, given the delay, they probably won't be - system components might be damaged from being over-burdened.
County commissioners had debated long over whether all residents or just residents next to the lines should share burial costs.
High-voltage lines require installation of wood and steel poles approaching and in some cases exceeding 100 feet in height, and adjacent residents complain about the visual blight as well as possible danger from electromagnetic radiation. Residents living away from the lines obviously are not directly affected by them.
A 1997 state law requires local governments - not power companies - to pony up the additional cost if they request buried power lines. There was a legal question of whether the county could create such a widespread special service district to spread out the cost, but a bill passed in the last legislative session specifically directed toward power line burial allows it.