Underground wires ‘would have been easy win’ for White Rock

Neighbourhood petition fails, but resident says city dropped the ball.

Overhead wires along Parker Street in White Rock

A White Rock resident who spearheaded an initiative to move overhead utility wires in his neighbourhood underground says he doesn’t understand why the city isn’t encouraging the project, given that the improvements are part of the city’s Official Community Plan.

Mike Armstrong, a Parker Street resident, first proposed the idea of relocating the hydro and telephone wires, after he learned his neighbourhood would be undergoing roadway improvements this year.

Speaking to council in September, Armstrong said many of the neighbours he had spoken to agreed to pay for the portion of the work on their own property, and that the cost would be significantly reduced because the roadways would already be dug up for the road work. Council referred the matter to staff.

In November, the city sent out a non-binding petition asking residents in the area if they supported or opposed the project at an estimated cost of $16,200 per household, which was met with concern by some area residents.

Last week, the city sent out a letter with results from the petition, which indicated that an average of 61 per cent of residents on six separate streets were against relocating the overhead wiring. The Community Charter requires 50 per cent plus one in support in order for a project to proceed.

Armstrong told Peace Arch News Monday that the petition was not what he had in mind when he spoke as a delegation to council in September, and said not only was the city’s estimate not accurate, the results did not paint a clear picture of what residents want.

“When council sent it to staff, we thought that meant staff would figure out how to do it. But what staff did was send out a survey with an estimate,” Armstrong said, noting an independent estimate he commissioned from BC Hydro and Telus approximated the bill to be about $8,000 per household.

“The residents are not against it at all, what they’re against is paying for the undergrounding of the wires on city property, which the city’s OCP states they want to do, but the city wants to put all the cost onto the residents.”

White Rock’s OCP, currently in the midst of an update, touches on moving wires underground under transportation and infrastructure goals and policies, where it states the city should “encourage opportunities to reduce the need for overhead wiring.”

Results from last spring’s Imagine White Rock 2045 survey – which is being used by staff to establish a framework for the new OCP – indicate that moving wires underground ranked third among ways the city can improve the design and appearance of the community, with 57 per cent of respondents in support.

Armstrong said the project was a “perfect example” of a private-public partnership, where the city and residents could have split the cost of the work to “beautify the city.”

“I keep reading about how council’s getting flak for not following the OCP, so it just seemed like an easy win for them,” Armstrong said.

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