Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Undergrounding electric utility lines

This is an issue in DC generally, in areas of the city that are outside of the original "L'enfant city," where there is a ban on overhead wires being placed along streets, and in the nearby counties, in response to frequent storm-related power outages.

Residents in the Brookland neighborhood, in a completely back-a**ed way, tried to make this an issue during the streetscape renovation planning and construction process there, but by not working with the planners and other government officials during the planning process (mostly the active residents focused on denigrating the planners) they didn't achieve their goal. Instead, they raised this when the streetscape was being constructed, and some particularly litigious and obstreperous residents sued the city (to no avail).

Of course, Pepco didn't make it any easier, because they say it costs about $22 million per mile to underground electric wires--a price that is about 12-15 times higher than national averages.

Paradise Valley in Greater Phoenix has been, over the past 20 years, undergrounding their electric and telephone wire infrastructure "making way for more unobstructed views" according to "Paradise Valley close to its goal of burying all utility lines" from the Arizona Republic.

Note that to do this--they've completed 55 miles and have 3 miles to go--it's paid for partly by the city and residents through a special taxing district, and the rest from the local utility. From the article:

He said the undergrounding costs over the years have totaled more than $12 million from Arizona Public Service Co. and $15 million from the town. ...

Residents in a designated district are assessed a fee that helps subsidize the costs, LeMarr said. In 2009, the property owners in District 6 paid $160,000 for the undergrounding.

LeMarr said residents favor the project, but the economic downturn slowed its progress.

"Some residents in this district have been waiting four years for this leg to be completed," he said. "We're committed to this project, and over the years, we've never wavered."

The town has an agreement with APS, which serves most of Paradise Valley, to bury the lines. In areas not served by APS, the town works with Salt River Project on individual removal and undergrounding projects.

The Paradise Valley process demonstates the need to have all parties--residents, the local government, and the local utilities--on board from the outset, otherwise it is impossible to achieve the goal, as any one uncommitted stakeholder can scuttle the attempt.

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