Blaine County commissioners will uphold a decision by the Planning and Zoning Commission to grant Idaho Power Co. a conditional use permit to build a redundant transmission line along state Highway 75, on one expensive condition: The whole line must be placed underground. 

     That was the takeaway following a pair of appeals challenging the proposal Monday morning at the Old County Courthouse, in which the commissioners instructed Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Tim Graves to draft a decision stating that the only way the project could meet county standards would be to bury the controversial line. The board will finalize the finding at a date to be determined.  

     Once signed, it will trigger the next chapter in the ongoing back-and-forth between Blaine County and Idaho Power, one that was likely inevitable from the start: how to cover the nearly $35 million bill the company estimates it will cost above the company’s design to entrench the project from the Hailey substation to where it is planned to go underground near Elkhorn Road, south of Ketchum. While Idaho Power will pay for the baseline version, any costs beyond that would require outside funding.  

     “We’re more than happy to underground the line, as long as we have a funding source,” Idaho Power spokesman Sven Berg said on Monday. “If Idaho Power had to take on the cost, customers across our service area would bear the burden. The Public Utilities Commission has determined that’s not a prudent use of resources.” 

     That’s a conversation for another day, Graves said.  

     “It’s going to involve Idaho Power thinking creatively, and the board working with the taxpayers and people along the line to figure out who is going to pony up,” he said. “But, as far as our zoning goes, is this line acceptable? The board says yes—if it’s underground.  

     “The decision is contingent on funding. If that breaks down, then we’ll have to discuss what’s next.” 

     The line is planned to be a redundant power source to serve the northern Wood River Valley, in addition to an existing line east of the highway.

     For more on this story, see the Wednesday edition of the Idaho Mountain Express.

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