Underground-wire petition sparks rift

White Rock property owners potentially on hook for $16,000 if majority vote is backed by council.

Lee Street resident Michael Brennan is not happy about an informal petition to underground the wires on his block

Residents of a White Rock neighbourhood are expressing concern about an informal petition they’ve received for the ‘undergrounding’ of utility poles and wires that would leave them on the hook for thousands of dollars.

The petition, dated Nov. 4, asks residents to identify their support or opposition to the project – spearheaded by local residents – at an estimated cost of $16,200 per property, excluding “GST and any conversion kits, driveway and boulevard restorations on private property and any administrative costs.”

Michael Brennan told Peace Arch News he received the petition two weeks ago and has spoken to several neighbours in the 900-block of Lee Street who agree it is “kind of weird.”

“It’s sort of pitting the top of the street against the bottom of the street, that’s very much how it’s being perceived, and people are a little ticked,” Brennan said Tuesday.

“The top of the street has the views and they’re going to make a fortune on this change, and those who are on the bottom, they’re picking up the tab getting nothing in return.”

White Rock’s director of engineering and municipal operations Greg St. Louis described the work as a “community-driven initiative,” noting such a project falls under the ‘local area service’ provision in the Community Charter.

St. Louis confirmed the petition, which closes Nov. 30, would need 50 per cent plus one in support of the project in order for the city to move forward, and would require BC Hydro, Telus and Shaw to be on board, as well as council approval.

Mike Armstrong, a Parker Street resident who first brought the proposal to city council in September, said he was prompted to look into the ‘undergrounding’ of wires when he learned his neighbourhood would be undergoing roadway improvements.

“The reason I brought this up is because there’s a roadworks plan in place where the entire street is going to be torn out with the storm drain and the sewer drain replaced, as well as with curbs and sidewalks put in,” Armstrong told PAN Wednesday. “So it just made sense that we underground (the wires) the same time that the work is being done, and everybody agrees that there would be some cost savings.”

Armstrong said he believes the $16,200 estimate put forth by the city is inflated, as it includes a 20 per cent contingency, and doesn’t take into consideration the cost savings of the roads already being dug up.

He also noted that the city is proposing a 15-year payment plan that, based on the city’s estimates, would work out to just over $1,000 a year per household.

He said he has talked to “probably 70 per cent” of the residents on Parker Street and hasn’t found anyone in opposition; in addition to the improved “curb appeal” for homeowners, he said the project would also have practical benefits.

“We probably have a moving truck or some truck rip down one of the hydro wires at least twice a year, and that’s never a good thing,” Armstrong said, noting that beautification is also laid out in the city’s Official Community Plan.

Armstrong noted the petition is non-binding and “certainly not a done deal.”

“All this is going to do is allow the city’s engineers to get accurate quotes,” he said.

And while the estimated cost of the work is troubling for Brennan and other neighbours – he noted one 83-year-old nearby who feared she would have to sell her house if faced with the bill – the notion of singling out residents to pay for such a project that he felt would eventually be undertaken citywide also did not sit well with him.

“It’s causing a bit of a rift, that’s for sure,” Brennan said.

“If they paint a stripe straight down the middle of your street, they don’t send you a bill for the paint right outside your house. If they change a lightbulb at city hall, they don’t charge the guy sitting under it.”

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