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Amelia Nielson-Stowell: Tooele board delays decision on power line for a month

TOOELE — Whether a high-power electric line will weave through rural Tooele County is up to the county's Planning Commission, which has a month before voting on the controversial project.

To the dismay of a large crowd of residents, the Tooele County Planning Commission voted 3-2 recently to table a decision until March on the Mona-to-Oquirrh line.

"We're not saying they can't have a power line. We're saying they can't have it here," Commissioner Joy Clegg said. "I don't really want to allow this to wear down these poor people who have gone through hell with Rocky Mountain Power."

Clegg was one of two planning commissioners who voted against the request from Rocky Mountain Power, following a four-hour meeting. Consensus among county leaders is to build the line on an alternate route with less of an impact on homes, views and the environment.

As drafted, the Mona-to-Oquirrh route is a 100-mile electrical expansion of high-power transmission lines that would run from Mona in Juab County to West Jordan and Salt Lake City.

The line would curve west from Mona through Utah County, Tooele County and eventually traverse east into Salt Lake County. Tooele County would be most affected by the route, which would run parallel to two lines through the area, passing Tooele, Grantsville, Stockton, Rush Valley, Stansbury Park, as well as areas such as Twelve Mile Pass, Middle Canyon, Mormon Trail Corridor and Settlement Canyon Reservoir.

The proposed route also runs through several other cities, including Salt Lake City, South Jordan, Magna, Eureka, Nephi and Goshen.

Each local government entity must sign off on a conditional-use permit, allowing the power lines in the zones. Approval from Tooele County is the last one needed before construction on the line can begin.

"We're trying to tackle a very complicated and very emotional issue for everyone involved," said Rod Fisher, Rocky Mountain Power's director of community relations.

The line is needed because of population growth, especially in the northern Utah area, Fisher said.

The entire line would be built in three phases, with service beginning in June 2013.

But Tooele County leaders — including the commission, local mayors and two activist groups — would rather see the route stay west and not divert into two parallel routes.

"We sat down for weeks and weeks offering solutions to Rocky Mountain Power that at least mitigated the route to the community, to the people in this county. We were rejected every time for many factors," said Tooele Mayor Patrick Dunlavy.

Residents who attended a public hearing last week are concerned about decreased property values, environmental impacts, health risks, marred views and even the future of Tooele High School's "T" on the foothills.

"We are putting a high-power transmission line over one of the most valuable, sentimental canyons of why Tooele is here," said Brad Pratt, fighting back tears.

Pratt, the head of Tooele Concerned Citizens, held up signatures of 4,000 residents opposing the route.

"I woke up strangled in the middle of the night with power lines around my neck because I know what's going to happen," said his wife, Kaye Pratt. "We want to use the power, not just be abused by the power. They're going to permanently destroy 202 acres."

Health risks are a major concern. While Rocky Mountain Power officials assert that research is inconclusive, local radiologist Jim Webber cited case studies that show increased risk of childhood leukemia.

Rocky Mountain Power officials said it would cost an additional $50 million to move a substation and route to the residents' alternate location.

The Planning Commission has 60 days to vote on whether to allow the conditional-use permits and may have to decide before an environmental impact study is completed.

The Bureau of Land Management originally had planned to finish the impact statement in January, but officials now say they're looking at a possible April release date.