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Midway Power Lines a “Lose-Lose” Situation, Says Mayor

Midway City

The Midway City Council is set to consider putting a $4 million dollar bond measure on the ballot in November to pay for the burial of about a mile of power lines running through the city at next Tuesday’s city council meeting. Midway Mayor Celeste Johnson says right now, the city is in a tough spot.


Rocky Mountain Power is poised to construct new power lines to carry electricity through the southern portion of Midway as part of a larger utilities project in the Heber Valley. Although Midway cannot stop the power lines from coming, the city council is debating whether or not to spend the money to move them underground.


The Midway City Council is scheduled to review a bond proposal to pay for the power line burial at their August 18th meeting. The city council will be voting on the language and dollar amount of the proposal and whether or not to put it on November’s ballot. Discussion at an August 7th special meeting put the bond amount at $4 million. 


Mayor Johnson told KPCW that concern around overhead power lines running through Midway began about two-and-a-half years ago after the power line project was approved. She says a desire to preserve Midway’s rural aesthetic and concerns over potential health risks associated with living in close proximity to power lines inspired the city council to look at alternative solutions.


“When the power line project started down highway 40 into Heber and the citizenry saw the scope of what those new poles would look like, I think that was the alarm that went up in everyone and the concern about having those poles come through our valley,” Johnson said.


According to the Utah Utility Facility Review Board Act, if a municipality wants to alter the route of any power lines, the additional cost of those modifications must be paid for by the municipality requesting them. Initial estimates put the costs of the project at approximately $5 million dollars but bids provided by Rocky Mountain Power to bury the lines were more than double that number.


The city has been in litigation with the utility company in appellate court for several months and Mayor Johnson said she feels like the process has been more one-sided than she or her colleagues on the city council would like.


“You know, it just feels very much like a large utility company pretty much gets to do what they want to do,” said Johnson. “You know, it was just a little bit discouraging because we felt that that body, that utility facility review commission, should have really looked at what these bids came in at, how many discrepancies there were between the bids, how disproportionate they were and we didn’t get that kind of support.” 


The power line issue has also been a divisive one for Midway residents. Comments on social media range from people happy to pay for the burial of the power lines to others who are unwilling to cover the costs of the project. 


Mayor Johnson said the decision whether or not to put the bond measure on the ballot is one the city council is not taking lightly. She says no matter what happens, buried power lines or not, a large portion of Midway residents will likely be unhappy.


“This whole project for Midway is turning into a lose-lose,” she said. “If we get what we want, it will cost us a lot of money. If we could bury for free, we’d have a 100% ‘yes, bury the lines’ vote, right? But it costs money and the utility company does not share in any of that additional expense. The burden of doing something like that lies on the municipality. If we don’t bury the lines, it’s a lose because we have this very unattractive, truly visually disturbing look. Our town is such a small rural community that we’re trying to protect that way. There’s just not an answer where it’s going to be a win.”


Mayor Johnson added it is her belief the majority of the council will be in favor of giving the ultimate decision over whether or not to pay for the power line burial to the voters of Midway in November.


The Midway City Council meeting is scheduled to begin at 6:00pm on Tuesday, August 18th and a Zoom link and agenda packet for the meeting, which includes the proposed bond language, can be found on the Midway city website, midwaycityut.org.

Sean Higgins covers all things Park City and is the Saturday Weekend Edition host at KPCW. Sean spent the first five years of his journalism career covering World Cup skiing for Ski Racing Media here in Utah and served as Senior Editor until January 2020. As Senior Editor, he managed the day-to-day news section of skiracing.com, as well as produced and hosted Ski Racing’s weekly podcast. During his tenure with Ski Racing Media, he was also a field reporter for NBC Sports, covering events in Europe.