Contributors to Project Underground
There is one thing that everyone in this town seems to be in agreement on - that being how nice it would be to rid our sidewalks, streets and views of utility poles and wires. Recently, local resident, Erwin Boring took it upon himself to carry a petition around gathering pages of signatures supporting this idea in hopes of getting the ball rolling on this often talked about topic. What Erwin and everyone else who has looked into undergrounding learned, is that it is expensive and complicated. It takes a joint effort between property owners, utility companies and the city. Tearing up and putting streets back together is often prohibitively expensive. Last night at City Hall, the Council met in regular session. Item #17 on the agenda was a proposal “CONSIDERATION OF A PRIVATE-PUBLIC PARTNERSHIP TO UNDERGROUND UTILITIES IN THE DOWNTOWN CORE”. Mike Clark’s Coaster Properties (now developing the old Osburn site), being advised by local electrician, Garry Smith, saw an opportunity to remove six telephone poles on the west side of Hemlock from the Bookstore to Bruce’s Candy Kitchen. Because Hemlock Street is already torn up, but scheduled for new pavement this spring, the window of opportunity is very narrow. The cost, as estimated in Mike Clark’s proposal, would be $45,000, of which Clark proposes to pay $15,000. This $45,000 is considerably below estimates that have been thrown around previously, mainly due to the current state of Hemlock Street and the fact that these poles do not carry electric power. Electric power is on the east side of Hemlock. I argued for this proposal sighting the benefit to the entire community and an opportunity for the city to lead the way in facilitating undergrounding. Public Works Director Joy Gannon pointed out the benefit of having those poles gone from our sometimes-too-narrow sidewalks. In discussing the proposal, a councilor suggested that the city share a third of the total cost leaving $15,000 for businesses and concerned citizens. I said that I would be happy to add my financial support and when I asked Tom Morris of Morris’s Fireside, who was in the audience, he said he would also contribute. I offered to solicit funds from others. Because action needed to be taken right away, before paving operations begin, a decision could not wait so the Council agreed to approve the partnership as an experiment and I agreed to solicit community financial support. Between Tom Morris and I, we are putting up $1500. We ask that all businesses and concerned citizens show their support by making their contribution to Project Underground, City of Cannon Beach, Box 368, Cannon Beach, OR 97110. Names of contributors are/will be posted at www.cannon-beach.net/project/underground (this page). Also Tom and Cat Mauldin of the Gazette are giving us a very favorable rate to list contributors in the paper. Please e-mail me with the date, amount of your contribution and how you want to be listed so your name is not missed. .. George Vetter
Cannon Beach City Council
CONSIDERATION OF UNDERGROUNDING OF UTILITIES
Agenda Date: February 8th 2005 7pm
Prepared by: Joy Gannon, Public Works Director
While there are many benefits to undergrounding utilities, the primary reason to bury overhead wires is aesthetic. A common misconception is that undergrounded wires help prevent outages caused by windstorms or vehicular collisions. This is only marginally true in this area because the undergrounded wires must be viewed as part of a larger, vulnerable aboveground system reaching Cannon Beach. Undergrounding is consistent with the City's commitment to being a visually attractive for residents and visitors and Council has considered undergrounding of utilities an issue for at least twenty years.
Funding and community support are the main challenges with undergrounding of utilities. Staff has highlighted concerns and methods of financing below.
Staff has heard strong sentiments both in favor and opposed to undergrounding of utilities. Last year, the City Council authorized an experiment in undergrounding and challenged the community to raise $15,000 to support an undergrounding project downtown. While there were approximately 32 donors to the project, only 56% of the necessary funds were raised. Staff is unable to gauge community support for utility undergrounding in association with the willingness to pay and at what level. Prior to pursuing any engineering study for undergrounding projects, Staff would recommend funding a study to conduct statistically valid city-wide survey to gauge community support for utility undergrounding. At a minimum the survey should include the following information: identification of specific geographic areas of the City and their level of support for undergrounding; general acceptance of utility undergrounding; level of support for city-wide undergrounding; determination of willingness to pay and at what level, and identification of concerns or areas of opposition to city-wide undergrounding.
Budget Impacts: None.
George Vetter Letter
Twenty-eight years ago I came to Cannon Beach. I was immediately struck by the simple beauty of the area. In 1977 the town was a bit run down having just come out of the poor economic times of the late 60’s and early 70’s. Many shops were “closed for the season” soon after Labor Day. Each year since then I have seen the town steadily clean-up, fix-up, improve and rebuild – kind of like an endless staircase, with each year taking another step. A Design Review Board was established to review the aesthetics of commercial construction. The town in general took pride in extending the simple beauty of the area to its man made improvements.
Early in my years here and since, there has been talk of burying utility poles and wires but it is expensive and therefore has been put off for another day/year/decade. Had an ongoing program begun in 1977, we would be seeing very few poles and wires by now. We took a big step this past spring in removing 6 poles and their accompanying wires (see photo at top of page) from the west side of Hemlock, Downtown. The improvement to our Downtown is not only aesthetic, but also functional. Pedestrians have more room for casual strolling, cars can open their doors and pull in an out of parking spaces without leaving scars, winds can blow and find no wires to relocate and utility workers can spend more time improving rather than maintaining service.
Not that there aren’t those who want to see Cannon Beach stay the same or even go back to the 70’s, but I think it safe to say that a large majority of citizens recognize the inevitability of progress and growth that is driven by forces from Portland, Seattle and beyond. We can’t control who comes to town, how much they pay for property and what they expect. But we can have influence. We can demonstrate the pride we have in our community and attract those who do the same. We are doing this in many areas already – demonstrated by our Haystack Rock Awareness Program, Shuttle, Sign Ordinance, Tree Ordinance, Design Review Board, Children’s Center, preservation of Ecola Creek, landscaping, etc. It’s time “Project Underground” became an ongoing city program.
Poles and wires are blocking our views and standing in our way throughout town. We all benefit from undergrounding. It’s not something which we can expect to be undertaken by individuals or neighborhoods. This is a role for government.
The big stumbling block here is money. It’s much more expensive now than it was 28 years ago and will surely be much more expensive 28 years from now. I have several suggestions of where the money could come from. None of these suggestions would need to stand alone, but could be used in combination.
1. A bond. Either General Obligation or Revenue as a means to spread some costs over the entire tax base. The percentage could be minuscule and still have far reaching effects over the years.
2. A small increase in the Transient Room Tax. I think we could only use 30% of the increase for this purpose because of the new state law, but the remaining 70% could be spent on tourist related investments, as defined by the law, benefiting our economy, especially our off-season, which is in extreme need of help. Our workforce suffers for lack of work in the off-season.
3. Donations. In the recent Hemlock Street project, over $8500 was donated by businesses and individuals. To further encourage and motivate donations, a city stipulation could be that for every dollar of public money spent, a certain amount of private money would be required. The amounts would not have to be matching, but could be something along the line of $2 of public funds for $1 of private.
4. Grants. This is an area that I know little of, but one which could be investigated.
5. Franchise Fees or requirements in our Franchise Agreement. I understand that our current agreement is up for renewal in 2015. That is a ways off, but in the meantime we can communicate our desires and intentions in hopes of encouraging undergrounding during the next 10 years as cost-saving opportunities arise.
The staff report (see above) of Public Works Director, Joy Gannon, details other “Financing Methods” which should also be used.
End George Vetter letter
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