Bury those power lines

Burying power lines in the city’s Railyards district is necessary if the downtown area is ever to meet its development potential, says a Red Deer architect.

Burying power lines in the city’s Railyards district is necessary if the downtown area is ever to meet its development potential, says a Red Deer architect.

George Berry, of Berry Architecture and Associates Ltd., told an Alberta Utilities Commission panel reviewing an application to upgrade the transmission system in the Red Deer region on Thursday that the land north and west of the downtown Real Canadian Superstore is prime riverside property.

It has been eyed by the city, through its Greater Downtown Action Plan, as ideal for high-density residential developments mixed with commercial and office space, said Berry, who chaired the steering committee that was looking at developing an area redevelopment plan for the Railyards.

That project is now on hold.

The Railyards offers similar opportunities as the Riverlands to the south, where the City of Red Deer has agreed to spend more than $8 million to bury 700 metres of power line to open the area up for future development. It is an expense the city has said it will not take on in the Railyards.

However, a number of business owners in the area want to see the line buried through the Railyards as well.

Among them is Red Deer emergency room physician Dr. Gregg Meikle, who bought a commercial building in the Railyards last year.

While he was aware no commitment had been made to bury the line in the area — even though it was highlighted as a benefit in the Greater Downtown Action Plan — he hoped “common sense would prevail.”

It makes no sense to upgrade the line and not bury it, he said.

AltaLink, which will undertake the $350-million transmission project, has a practice of not paying to bury power lines unless someone else pays for it, the hearing has heard. Burying lines can cost 10 times more than stringing them between poles.

In cross-examination, AltaLink lawyer Sandy Carpenter questioned Meikle on his motivation, noting he stood to benefit by redeveloping his property if the line was buried.

Meikle said he would only be one of a group of business people who would then be free to do more with the properties.

Carpenter pointed out if property owners and the city didn’t pay to bury the line, the costs would be passed on to all power users.

AltaLink also cross-examined representatives for the Pines Group, which represents about 50 residents in that neighbourhood who would like to see a replacement line moved further away from homes.

The City of Red Deer supports the route change, which would see a section of line moved down the escarpment behind the Pines.

Questioning was mostly focused on confirming details of the proposed routes. AltaLink’s preferred route follows the existing right of way.

Pines resident Howard Friesen said although the power line was there before the neighbourhood was developed, the proposed upgrade means big changes.

Wooden poles will be replaced by bigger, taller concrete poles and lines will carry triple the electricity load.

“At this point you’re going to have a structure that looks like something out of a commercial zone, not something in a residential zone,” said Friesen, who has lived in his Payne Close home since 1977.

To him, the situation is similar to the Railyards. If there is an ideal opportunity to move the line and improve the community, why not take it.

Friesen has no idea if residents’ voices will be heard by the commission.

“Who knows? You have the wishes of a few people against the push of a big conglomerate.

“Sometimes you get lucky.”

pcowley@bprda.wpengine.com

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