Commentary: Rocky Mountain Power threatens a fragile neighborhood

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Gary James Bergera talks about the effect the Beck Street Transmissions Project will have on the 400 North neighborhood, Friday, July 5, 2019.

Rocky Mountain Power recently held an open house to announce plans and answer questions regarding its new Beck Street Transmissions Project. The representatives were friendly, cordial, upbeat. They did their best to explain Rocky Mountain’s intent to service the growing needs of Marathon Petroleum Corporation, by the refineries in north Salt Lake, which, they say, will benefit everyone.

Rocky Mountain’s open house was not a public hearing. It was the announcement of a fait accompli. In fact, for those of us most impacted by Rocky Mountain’s plan, the open house was the first news we’d ever heard about this new, major intrusion into one of the city’s vulnerable, struggling neighborhoods.

Rocky Mountain’s objective was placation, not participation.

Rocky Mountain wants to replace and add new poles and power lines, some almost double the size of existing poles, with more lines and many more times the carrying capacity, from 1200 North, south and east to 400 West, then south to 400 North, west to 900 North, and finally south to 100 South. This route travels from residential neighborhoods, to industrial/commercial neighborhoods, and back into and through low-density residential neighborhoods. In the process, mature trees, decades old and older, will be removed to make way for much taller poles. The corner of 400 North and 900 West and from 900 West south will be especially impacted as an entirely new line of very tall poles will be installed. The landscape will look very different–less residential, more industrial.

Rocky Mountain says that it thoroughly evaluated several different routes with Salt Lake City officials and settled on the current route through residential neighborhoods as “presenting the least impact to property owners.” (This may come as news to some of Salt Lake City’s Planning Department, who, when recently asked about the project, said they didn’t know anything about it.) Despite the fact that other possible routes passed through much lower density, less at-risk neighborhoods, Rocky Mountain and city officials want us to trust them, as we residents were never invited to participate in the review process.

When pressed, Rocky Mountain admits that “least impact” in terms of route selection means least expensive and least difficult to Rocky Mountain. Other routes paralleled existing railroad tracks and represented little to no adverse impact to residents. Burying the new line was another possibility, but Rocky Mountain says that this would have cost at least seven times as much (the cost, by law, would had to have been borne by Marathon Petroleum).

Rocky Mountain is a large, innovative, creative company. Certainly, it can deal with whatever challenges a different, less intrusive route presents.

Rocky Mountain insists that its “obligation is to meet the needs of all of its customers,” and that in this particular case, it “has an obligation to meet the customers’ request, which require an upgrade to the system.” Here, however, the customer is Marathon Petroleum, not the residents most affected by Marathon’s request.

The problem is not that Rocky Mountain is trying to satisfy Marathon’s request for increased reliability and power. We would all like increased reliability from Rocky Mountain (especially given the increasing number of power outages). The problem is that neither Rocky Mountain nor Salt Lake City ever sought the involvement of those city residents most affected by the Beck Street Project and that Rocky Mountain now puts Marathon’s and Rocky Mountain’s own needs above those of its many other customers in these fragile neighborhoods.

Gary Bergera

Gary James Bergera lives and works in the western portion of Salt Lake City’s District 1.