A ruling by a state utility board would have put an end to Midway’s bid to place transmission lines underground. That movement is still alive as City council voted to ask for a stay on the ruling Tuesday evening.
In December Midway’s City Council approved a permit allowing Rocky Mountain Power and Heber Light & Power to construct new transmission lines to carry power through the southern portion of Midway. The approval was conditional on a few items, the key one being that the lines be buried, if Midway can secure the funds to pay for the additional costs.
A few months later Rocky Mountain Power provided three bids for the cost to bury the lines in Midway, the lowest being $12.6 million. The power company also challenged the conditions on their permit to the Utah Utility Facility Review Board, a state entity that resolves disputes between local governments and power companies. After hours of deliberation the board ruled in favor of the power company, saying the bids were valid and that if Midway wants to pay to bury the lines they must do so within 120 days of the order.
Midway is now fighting that ruling. Tuesday evening the city council authorized their attorney to ask for a stay, which would put a hold on the utility boards ruling and would provide Midway an opportunity to have a hearing in an appellate court.
Mayor Celeste Johnson says they expect to know within a week whether the stay is denied, a temporary stay is put into place, or they are granted a stay.
“So obviously if we’re denied then we really don't have much of a pathway forward,” Johnson said. “The other two options give us an opportunity to plead our case to yet one more authority.”
In the hearing before the Utility Facility Review Board Rocky Mountain Power argued that they provided bids in line with their established standards, Mayor Johnson disagrees.
“We hope that the court will recognize that the bids that were provided by Rocky Mountain Power had errors, they were inaccurate, and they were grossly inflated,” Johnson continued. “We believe until we are given an accurate cost, it's unfair to ask for a payment. We cannot give anybody a blank check, and what we're asking is that we be given price that is realistic, that is accurate, that is based on accurate information. We have not been given that yet.”
Rocky Mountain Power also argued that the transmission line project must be completed soon to prevent blackouts to their customers Mayor Johnson also says the company has been unable to prove their claim that the project is time sensitive.
A professional survey of Midway residents revealed 70% would support having the transmission lines buried underground. The utility boards ruling does not allow Midway time to hold a bond election this November to raise the remaining funds needed to pay to bury the lines. Mayor Johnson hopes an appellate court would also change that.
“We are hopeful that if a stay is granted, we will be given a timeline that gives us a reasonable opportunity to put this on the ballot,” Johnson explained. “To let the citizens of Midway have a chance to vote on what they want to have happen.”
Mayor Johnson also clarified that the city received a donation Wednesday morning to pay for the legal fees of the appeal.
“I received a cashier's check from the citizens group VOLT in the amount of $15,000,” Johnson said. “They are covering the legal fees to file this stay. The city is not incurring legal fees to go to this next step.”
Bengt Jonsson is with the citizen group ValleyWide Opposition to Large Transmision lines or VOLT, he says they’re pleased with the council's decision.
“We’re happy that the Midway City Council has identified that there's a problem here,” Jonsson continued. “That Rocky Mountain Power has positioned themselves as doing everything that they need to, to get what they want. I think this is a proper way to move forward and to get a third independent party to look at the facts. To help us as a community directly control what we want our community to be.”
Mr. Jonsson adds they’re not trying to torpedo the project.
“We're looking for a win-win, where both interested parties get exactly what they need and there is a path forward,” Jonsson explained. “It would be great if we could all sit down, and with cool mind and level heads make this work for everybody.”
VOLT has raised over half a million dollars to help fund the project.