A recent survey of Blaine County residents found that a majority of respondents were in favor of either fully or partially burying an Idaho Power redundant transmission line along state Highway 75, according to results shared at a county commissioners meeting Tuesday.
With those results in mind, the commissioners agreed to tentatively pursue a partial undergrounding of the line going forward.
The survey, conducted by Barry Zeplowitz & Associates on behalf of the county, was done by phone. The 300 randomized Blaine County residents surveyed were presented with three options for the power line: burying it entirely, burying only the distribution lines or allowing Idaho Power to build the line aboveground.
The survey is the latest development in a years-long debate over the power line and its potential impact on the views along state Highway 75. After initially denying Idaho Power’s request to install an overhead line, the county agreed to allow a redundant line on one condition: It would have to be underground. Idaho Power is only willing to cover the cost of an overhead line, however, meaning the county is responsible for the cost of putting it underground from the Hailey substation to where it was already scheduled to dive underground west of Elkhorn Road— a project expected to cost in the neighborhood of $38 million.
Other options include undergrounding certain segments of the line—which costs roughly $3 million per mile to bury—or only undergrounding the distribution lines, which would also populate the taller poles. Undergrounding the distribution lines would cost about $5.7 million, according to county estimates.
When asked which option they would prefer, 34 percent said they would most like to see the county bury the line completely, with the cost covered by the public through additional fees or a levy. A levy would require the support of two-thirds of voters to be implemented, as Commissioner Dick Fosbury noted in the meeting. An additional 18 percent of respondents said they would support the complete undergrounding, but it wasn’t their first preference.
Thirty-one percent of respondents said they would most like to see the county pursue the second option: burying only the distribution lines, a move that would lessen the line’s impact on scenic views along the highway. Overall, 57 percent of people surveyed said they would support partially burying the line, though for 26 percent it wasn’t their first choice.
Twenty-seven percent said they would most like to see the county do nothing—allowing the line to be built aboveground—but that option had significantly less support overall, with 36 percent of respondents saying they would support the county in pursuing that path.
Going forward, the commissioners tentatively agreed that the second option—burying only the distribution lines—was likely the best and most achievable way forward.
“I think that is a reasonable option and one that I hope Idaho Power would bring forward to the [Idaho Public Utilities Commission],” Commissioner Angenie McCleary said.
One potential funding source that the commissioners have discussed previously is a 3 percent surcharge on all Idaho Power electric bills in the county—$3.57 onto each monthly residential bill and $8.43 onto each commercial bill—over the next 20 years to partly cover the cost of the undergrounding. That would amount to a total of about $9 million: enough to partly bury the transmission line or to only bury the distribution lines, but not enough to underground the entire thing.
The commissioners did not make any final decisions Tuesday, but agreed to develop a path forward while continuing to work with Idaho Power.