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In its quest for permission to string a high-voltage line atop 80-foot towers through a densely populated neighborhood, Utah Power is running into resistance.

Residents have banded together against the project, demanding it be buried underground. And although the lines would begin in unincorporated Salt Lake County before stretching across Sandy, the city has threatened to block work by excercising its right to dictate development near its borders.The dispute is clouded by questions about who has the ultimate say.

The Dimple Dell substation, which Utah Power says is badly needed to keep up with explosive growth in the area, would be in the county at 1929 E. Dimple Dell Road, but the lines would course through Sandy (see map).

The county Planning Commission has given its approval to the new substation, but the County Commission is entertaining an appeal because of neighborhood opposition.

Sandy Mayor Larry Smith said the city this winter might go to the Legislature to clear up the issue of jurisdiction.

"I don't know whether we can require them to go underground," said Smith. "We might have to get a law clarifying things."

Dale Ash, one of the area homeowners fighting the project, said the dispute raises fundamental questions about regulation of utilities. Rates set by Utah Power, the largest provider of electricity in Utah, are controlled by the Public Service Commission, but Ash said the public has little input over how or where a utility project is built.

Some 2,000 residents of the area have signed a petition against the proposed overhead lines.

"The basic problem is the citizens are powerless," said Ash, who added that the project's overhead lines would diminish property values in the area and might also pose a health threat because of their electromagnetic fields.

Ash also said Utah Power is misrepresenting the need for the Dimple Dell substation as well as what it would cost to put the project underground. He said the utility's warnings earlier this year that hot weather could create blackouts in the Sandy-Draper area because supply would exceed demand don't ring true. And he said outside experts have disputed Utah Power's contention that burying the lines would inflate the price of the $1.2 million project by $16 million.

"We're very much aware some people do not agree with our engineering assessment as well as the need for the substation, choice of line route and what it will cost," said Dave Eskelsen, a Utah Power spokesman.

Eskelsen said the utility's warning that power demands could cause outages didn't materialize because this has been an unusually cool summer. And he said there are still serious concerns about the system's local "ability to perform during peak, hot-weather times."

He said the argument points up conflicts between state law requiring utilites to provide service where needed and local zoning laws that might inhibit such service.

Eskelsen said growing demands for electricity in the area make it crucial for construction to begin and the substation to go on line soon, one way or another.

"I don't think we'll be this lucky with the weather next year," he said.

Staff writer Joel Campbell contributed to this story.