Thursday, January 26, 2006

Approving a Regional Facility

A couple of years ago, we worked closely with Rep. Ralph Becker and Rep. Greg Hughes on a bill addressing Facilities of Regional Significance. The bill was prompted by the dispute between Draper City and Metro Water District over the location of a large water treatment facility where the water district said it was by far the best and most efficient site to serve a wide area of the south valley. Draper City, however, said they had been planning on the site being a commercial area critical to the financial viability of their community.

The issue was eventually brought to the state legislature, with a threat of a bill to exempt regional water treatment facilities from local land use regulation.

To avoid such problems in the future, Reps. Becker and Hughes proposed a bill that would require better planning coordination between local governments and entities that plan and build "regional facilities" that serve more than one jurisdiction. That part was eventually passed.

The second part of the proposed bill was to set up a sort of "mediation panel" that would hear and decide on any future disputes like the Draper City - Metro Water controversy. That part was nixed, as cities and counties said they did not want to give up any of their land use authority to another unelected body.

Yesterday the West Jordan City Council accepted a Utah Power substation in a neighborhood which it had been fighting for some time. See stories in the Trib and DesNews. Apparently the city council decided to back off after the Electrical Facility Review Board decided in favor of Utah Power on the siting of the substation.

Who knew that such a tool already existed, when we were debating the issue in the Facilities of Regional Significance bill back when? I sure didn't.

Apparently the provision in the state code to set up the board came about following a dispute in the 90's, when Sandy City wanted Utah Power to bury all its new transmission lines. Utah Power objected because of the cost. Again, aspects of the dispute made their way up to the state legislature, and this was one of the things that came from it.

The provisions for the Board are found in the Title 54 Chapter 14 of the state code. It established an Electrical Facility Review Board, composed of the three members of the Public Utility Commission, and two representatives appointed by the governor, nominated by the League of Cities and Towns and Utah Association of Counties. The purpose of the Board is to resolve disputes between local governments and electrical utilities over the siting of facilities.

"If the board decides that a facility should be constructed that the local government has prohibited, the local government shall, within 60 days following the decision of the board, issue the permit, authorization, approval, exception, or waiver consistent with the decision of the board."

Wow. So such a board has existed all along (just for electrical utilities, however) and I'll bet most of us didn't even know. I guess West Jordan knows it, at least now. Judging from the clips I saw on the TV news last night, I don't think it will be easy to convince anyone that a similar process should be established for other types of regional facilities.

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