The Blaine County Board of Commissioners is demanding that a new industrial-style power line set to be built along the spine of the Wood River Valley between Hailey and Ketchum be constructed underground.
Idaho Power Co. says that will happen only if the people of Blaine County pay for it because the company won’t spread the cost of undergrounding throughout its system and make all of its customers pay for it.
It’s a stare-down.
Idaho Power holds the regulatory cards, and Blaine County holds only taxpayers.
The commissioners’ demand will echo hollowly through future decades if they do nothing to put options for financing the estimated $35 million in front of voters and potential donors to fund the effort.
The stare-down has been coming for months since the Planning and Zoning Commission approved the line’s route last November. A group of residents later filed an appeal with the board.
County officials have seemed flummoxed by the estimated price and confounded about methods of financing it.
The county and every valley city employ well-paid public administrators and attorneys that understand bonds, levies, property values, taxing districts, public budgets, elections and the like. Banks, whose job it is to raise money and lend money, understand financing.
The valley’s elected officials need to put them to work to come up with options to finance putting the lines underground. Options could include private donations along with public financing.
For its part, Idaho Power needs to look at upping its contribution to the effort to reduce its liability for potential catastrophic wildfires that could result from downed lines.
The ball is in Blaine County’s court, and it needs to pick up its game. If it fails to try, our alpine vistas will be horribly scarred forever.