Sunday, May 13, 2001

Power poles not wanted

Woodland Place fights city hall

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        FORT THOMAS — There may not be a more appropriately named street in this Campbell County city than Woodland Place.

        Tall, full trees line either side of the quiet residential cul-de-sac. Even in the early afternoon, the sun is obscured behind massive, leafy branches of green, shading nearly every house.

        At the end of the street is a thicket that provides residents a feeling of natural isolation, even though the center of town is a block away.

        “I had four deer in my backyard this morning,” said Joe Weyer, who lives with his wife, Kim, and their children — Jake, 8, Maria, 6, and Ben, 3 — in a handsome brick home next to the woods at the end of the street.

        “You'd never know we were 10 minutes from (downtown) Cincinnati and right next to the middle of town,” Mr. Weyer said as Ben swooshed back and forth on his swing set. “It's like we're in the country.”

        Residents fear their street and even their lives will be disrupted by an ambitious plan to revamp the city's main business district along North Fort Thomas Avenue.

        The plan, under discussion for more than a year but not approved or funded by city council, calls for overhead utility lines on North Fort Thomas to be removed, rerouted and diverted to a series of residential streets, including Woodland Place.

        To complete the utility relocation a 24-foot swath would have to be cut through the woods at the end of Woodland to make room for a section of power lines.

        “Those woods have been there for as long as I can remember,” said Mrs. Weyer, who grew up in a house almost hidden among the trees where her parents still live.

        “People live in Fort Thomas and move here because of things like woods at the end of the street,” she said. “I just can't believe the city wants to come in here and mess up this wonderful setting. It makes me sad. It makes me angry.”

        City Administrator Jeff Earlywine said he and other city officials understand the resident' concerns. He has tried to assure residents that while some trees will be cut down at the end of the street those along the street will, except for some pruning and cutting back, be left largely intact.

        And Cinergy Corp., the power company that would ultimately perform the project, has told the city that as many as five existing utility poles on the street can be removed once the new wires are hung.

        But a major phase of the business district plan is to bury the utility wires along a four- to five-block section of North Fort Thomas Avenue.

        “We wouldn't be doing this if it wasn't a very important ingredient to what we think is an important community effort, and that is really reinvigorating our business district,” Mr. Earlywine said. “But there is a larger dividend, a greater good citywide, that we have to keep in mind through all of this.

        “And we're trying to balance all of that and serve the needs of the community at large,” he said.

        Woodland Place resident Patti Hudepohl, one of the leading opponents to the plan, fears what might happen to the trees once the cutting begins.

        “We have beautiful, old trees on this street,” Mrs. Hudepohl said. “I don't understand why the city wants to disrupt this natural beauty. They are burying some of the lines. They should bury all the lines.”

        Mr. Earlywine said the city is due to receive $300,000 in state money to bury some of the lines along North Fort Thomas Avenue. But that's not enough money to put the largest lines — those used mainly by businesses and other large power users — underground.

        That would cost more than $1 million, he said.

        “Then they should wait,” Mrs. Hudepohl argued, “until they have enough money to do this right.”

        Money is key for the entire plan, which has yet to be fully funded.

        Relocating the lines will cost $730,000, Mr. Earlywine has said. Along with the $300,000 in state money the city has also applied for a federal grant of $430,000, but there are no guarantees that the city will receive the money, he said.

        If the grant money is not awarded, city council will have to decide how to pay for the project, Mr. Earlywine said.

        Mr. Earlywine said city officials are listening closely to the opposition from the residents, not just on Woodland but on other streets that will be affected by the plan.

        About 60 people against the project attended a meeting last week at the city building.

        Mrs. Weyer said her family will fight the city's attempts at securing the wooded property, even if the city tries to condemn the property and take it through eminent domain.

        “I played in those woods when I was a kid,” she said. “I want my kids to play there while they're growing up. I don't want utility lines where there should be trees.”


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