The Blaine County Board of County Commissioners should put the questions to voters: Are local electric power consumers willing to pay to underground a proposed backup power line? Which payment options would they choose?
The line is proposed to run the length of the Wood River Valley between Hailey and Ketchum. Much of the second line would be above ground and mounted on industrial-style poles that would be 8 to 14 feet taller than the existing poles, which would remain in place as well.
This would be doubly ugly in a valley whose looks are its livelihood.
Passage of a well-crafted option to finance the estimated $38 million cost of undergrounding the line is not out of the question even in the midst of economic uncertainties generated by the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Last fall, Ketchum voters approved an $11.5 million bond issue to build a new fire station. Construction is underway. It’s not a stretch to think that Blaine County voters might approve a $38 million levy to underground the ugly new power line.
Burying the line would protect the scenic views that everyone in the valley loves. It would prevent damage to the tourist-based economy and help reduce the threat of wildfires.
Of course, if valley voters want to pull in the welcome mat, they will want the lines above ground. To reinforce the message, they may also wish to dot lands near the valley’s highway with junk cars, stacks of worn-out tires and billboards.
With the state’s backing, Idaho Power has refused to pay to underground the majority of the line. It already has permission from the Idaho Public Utilities Commission to build the line as a matter of public necessity.
So, the choice is up to local power consumers: Pay to bury the lines or mar the valley’s beauty for generations.