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The City Journals

So Jo Planning Commission ultimately advances RMP conditional use permit, against resident tumult

Apr 15, 2019 11:38AM ● By Jennifer J Johnson

A packed city council chambers listened intently to public input on Rocky Mountain Power’s conditional use permit. (Jennifer J. Johnson)

By Jennifer J. Johnson | [email protected]

People who had never attended a planning commission meeting found themselves riveted, sitting and listening as words and momentum shifted back and forth, throughout the night in the South Jordan City Council Chambers. People who had a lot at stake, on multiple sides of the issue, were even more riveted.

It was the Tuesday, March 12, the night that the five-person South Jordan Planning Commission conducted public hearings to determine next-steps in a long-term process that Rocky Mountain Process has undergone to try to advance a project to better serve community power needs. There were other items on the agenda, but the majority of the audience filling the chambers was there on that agenda item.

At issue was whether or not Rocky Mountain’s request for a conditional use permit would lead to “unmitigatable detrimental effects.” That, from the outset, was presented as the only gating item which could stay the planning commission’s approving the permit.

The need for power

Rocky Mountain Power (RMP) has long indicated demand for electricity in the South Salt Lake Valley has exceeded the capacity of some of the electric power facilities and needs to be rebuilt. RMP Regional Business Manager Lisa Romney told all gathered that night, that area substations are currently operating at 92 percent, and are set to exceed 105 percent by summer 2020. 

This South Jordan-to-Draper Transmission Upgrade project, they maintain, requires the upgrading of existing power lines and poles that have been in place since the 1950s as part of its mandate to effectively and efficiently provide power to existing communities and be ready to service growth for new customers.

The South Jordan-to-Draper Transmission Upgrade has been argued and debated for months, with Rocky Mountain Power’s willingness to try to best accommodate residents through the change falling short of community members’ unrelenting commitment to see that the power lines be either buried or completely rerouted.

After pleading the case to the South Jordan City Council and, at various other occasions to the Planning Commission, to the state of Utah Office of Property Rights Ombudsman, and certainly to Rocky Mountain Power directly, the citizens group hired an attorney and went about exploring claims against title companies that they say did not accurately depict their properties’ easements and their being subject to this power line upgrade which RMP says was planned for since the time of the initial installation of the lines and long before the neighborhoods existed. 

The night of the planning commission meeting, the citizen’s group issued a press release and had multiple television news stations out front of the city hall building and inside chambers for the bulk of the meeting.

Resident momentum
Emotional video footage is played of a woman, mainly bed-bound, citing that electromagnetic fields make her ill and that an increase in transmission line voltage would render her hopelessly incapacitated.

Teachers, parents, elderly residents approach the microphone, each presenting their case for concern about safety, health, and property devaluation.

“Rocky Mountain Power is putting profits ahead of safety,” resident Jana Fullmer asserted, in what one of her neighbors called her “closing argument,” which included assertions that

At one point, a planning commissioner pointedly calls out what he sees as a David vs. Goliath situation: Directly asking Rocky Mountain Power, the public utility company that is owned by Berkshire Hathaway Energy, and is beneficiary to the resources of a $500 billion investor, if they truly think a handful of citizens will be able to see justice from the courts, if they were to pursue that route.

“Can I ask your opinion, how fair is that?” asked South Jordan Planning Commission member John Ellis.

Rerouted momentum

At the end of the evening, though, momentum feeling as strong as a light electric current, had shifted away from residents of South Jordan who were challenging Rocky Mountain Power’s application for a conditional use permit to be able to upgrade existing poles in neighborhoods. 

Hours of citizen testimony, Rocky Mountain comments and rebuttal, and a single outburst of applause in violation of South Jordan Planning Commission Chair Mark Woolley’s early insistence that there be “no booing, no cheering” had finally come to an end.

Planning Commission Vice Chair Julie Holbrook, who had first motioned that the council table the decision to allow for consideration of more research to be provided by residents, had clearly understood the city’s legal counselor’s re-assertion of the only legal terms which the planning commission could deny the permit.

“Guess what? We’re not the court,” she explained. “We can’t decide. I don’t know why we’re delaying this two weeks.”

Holbook withdrew her motion, and instead moved that the commission approve the conditional use permit, with the stipulation that if a court were to find RMP’s easements insufficient, that the utility be made to acquire those easements, whether it be through eminent domain or through negotiated agreements with property owners.

The motion passed unanimously. Rocky Mountain Power’s schedule is to complete the power line by spring, 2020, in time for peak summer usage.