A group of Sevier County residents who want to put a vote to the people on the issue of building a coal-fired power plant in Sevier County plans to appeal a court decision in Richfield that upheld a new law dealing with referendums.

The Right to Vote committee's attorney, Jeff Owens, said today that he is filing a notice of appeal Thursday with the goal of getting the matter heard by the Utah Supreme Court.

Sevier Power Co. for the past seven years has been working toward building a coal-fired plant near Sigurd. Company attorney Fred Finlinson said Wednesday that Sevier Power is about 30 days away from getting county approval to build the 270-megawatt plant, which has so far met state regulators' air-quality requirements.

Sixth District Judge Wallace Lee decided Tuesday that the Right to Vote committee did not have the legal right, based on SB53 that took effect last May, to put the issue on the ballot for November. But Owens is asking for a stay of Lee's decision, pending an answer from the Utah Supreme Court on the constitutionality of the new law.

Owens' clients want the company to be required to obtain conditional-use permits that would include needing a majority favorable vote of the people in Sevier County before any coal-fired power plants are built within its boundaries.

"I think this is pretty unique legislation being proposed by the citizens," Owens said. "It's a pretty divisive issue."

With the deadline approaching for getting ballots printed, Owens' clients, if successful in their appeal, may need a special election for a vote on the referendum. Owens said asking for the stay of Lee's decision would keep the initiative on the ballot for November.

Owens said the county's residents are split on the subject, while Finlinson said he has heard that slightly more than half of the residents want the power plant built near Sigurd.

The critics "are doing everything they can to defeat the power company," Finlinson said. "They don't have to win — to stall is as good for them as a victory."

Finlinson contends that the new law that at least temporarily quashed the citizen committee's plans is constitutional. He said he is confident Lee's decision will be upheld during the appeals process. The law states that initiatives can't be used to change land-use ordinances, he said.

Owens said he isn't aware of a precedent in Utah where residents of a county get to decide first during the permitting process on whether to build coal-fired power plants. "That doesn't mean it can't happen," Owens said.


E-mail: sspeckman@desnews.com