rendering

This rendering shows what the above-ground version of the line could look like near the intersection of state Highway 75 and East Fork Road.

Discussion of whether—and how—Blaine County will pay to bury an Idaho Power transmission line through the Wood River Valley continued with no consensus reached at a public meeting last Thursday.

County commissioners are now in the process of planning a third meeting on the subject in the coming weeks.

Thursday’s meeting touched on a number of funding options for the 9-mile transmission line, which will go near and along state Highway 75. The recent meetings are a continuation of a years-long discussion on how and whether to underground the transmission line.

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, and 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 estimated to cost between $32 million and $38 million.

One way to fund the undergrounding would be through either a temporary countywide levy—which would last a maximum of two years and require majority approval from voters—or a longer-term levy, which would require two-thirds of voters.

The county commissioners have also considered using a local improvement district, or LID, to fund the project, though they acknowledged at Thursday’s meeting that such a strategy has potential downsides. The seldom-used funding method would tax properties that benefit from the project—in this case, properties along the length of the line.

“The LID simply puts too much of the burden on too few of the benefiting owners and it’s not fair to do that,” Commissioner Dick Fosbury said.

However, commissioners noted, if a certain neighborhood or subdivision wished to underground only a certain portion of the line, it could be done through an LID.

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.

Idaho Power has proposed adding a 3 percent surcharge to all electric bills in the county—$3.57 onto each 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 line or to only bury the distribution lines, but not enough to underground the entire thing.

Discussion will continue at a third meeting, which has not yet been scheduled.

Email the writer: gkauffman@mtexpress.com

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