Council clears up utility project details

Details for the plan to move utility wires underground in the North Hills and Sunset districts were ironed out at the City Council meeting on April 20.

Several issues about the process, called undergrounding, were addressed, including the size of the projects, construction timing for both districts and staking the outlines of large equipment boxes with story poles.

The decisions help the districts proceed toward construction in 2010, if property owners approve paying for the improvements this fall.

The North Hills District will proceed as one district with 322 parcels, instead of three smaller districts. District residents supported one large district because it would be more cost-effective to have one assessment vote and one construction contract, and the council agreed.

The somewhat controversial decision on when construction would start also was settled. North Hills is scheduled to begin March 2010 and finish in January 2011. Construction will be done in phases, beginning at the northern end and moving south, said City Engineer Carmen Kasner.

The Sunset District, with 148 parcels, is scheduled to begin in July 2010 and finish in March 2011. The council unanimously agreed that with more overlap in the projects, more savings could be realized if the same contractor does both projects.

However, officials said there must be some lag between the two districts because otherwise too many streets would be closed for trenching at the same time, preventing traffic from safely flowing in and out of the city.

North Hills residents had come into the meeting opposed to the proposed timeframe, fearing the overlap would delay the completion of their district. However, once it was clarified the North Hills project would finish in January 2011 no matter when Sunset began construction, they were more supportive.

Residents in the Sunset District backed the approved timeframe.

An alternative schedule delayed starting Sunset construction until after North Hills trenching was completely done in 2011 - which would have pushed back their undergrounding process by eight months.

“We’re anxious to get the lines removed,” resident Kathy McCarthy said. “We were very quick to form, very quick to act, very quick to raise the $65,000, very quick to obtain more than the required number of signatures, which proves how important this project is to the Sunset district.”

The timing may be tweaked a little after safety routes are evaluated by the fire department, said Assistant City Manager Mark Delin.

Finally, residents and the council agreed on spending $3,000 to set up story poles at the locations for the transformers to help people understand the size of the equipment sooner rather than later. Staking will occur in June, after the project design is complete.

Discussion about screening the transformers was postponed until the transformers are staked.

The two districts will vote to move forward or not with the undergrounding this fall. If approved, about 25 percent of the city will have undergrounded utility wires, including the neighborhoods along Crest Canyon and in the Wildland Urban Interface Zone.

“We’re going to be a much safer city once Sunset and North Hills are done,” resident Sharon Hilliard said.