Wednesday, June 06, 2001

Utility wires plan runs into sparks

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        FORT THOMAS — Over the objections of some residents, Fort Thomas City council has agreed to move forward on a downtown business revitalization plan that includes relocating utility wires to nearby residential streets.

        Though all the funding has not been secured for the project, the city wants to begin construction this summer on burying some utility lines and moving others to nearby streets, including Woodland Place.

        Residents on Woodland have objected the plan, fearing trees along the street will have to be cut back and possibly damaged to make room for the wires. They are also concerned about a proposal to run utility lines through a thick wooded area at the end of the street.

[photo] Utility lines such as these looking north on North Fort Thomas Avenue from Highland Avenue would be moved under a city plan which some residents oppose.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
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        But in a 5-0 vote Monday night — Mayor Mary Brown was out of town and could not attend the meeting — council voted to proceed with the plan but also instructed the city's administration to try and come up with an alternative to cutting down portions of the woods.

        “Council directed the (city's) staff to sit down with residents at the end of Woodland Place . . . to basically come up with a plan for the wooded area,” City Administrator Jeff Earlywine said Tuesday.

        “We might be able to bury the whole thing, or look at modifications of the overhead wires,” he said. “People there haven't been satisfied with some of the plans and council has told the city staff to go back and work on it so we can try and make it more palatable to the residents.”

        Burying the lines, however, could add another $140,000 to $150,000 to a project already estimated to cost about $750,000.

        And the city may have to come up with some additional money to make the entire utility line project happen.

No guarantees for grant

        Mr. Earlywine said the city has about $450,000 of the money and has applied for a $323,000 state grant for the rest. There are no guarantees, however, that the city will get the grant, meaning council and the administration will have to work to find the money to complete the project, he said.

        Joe and Kim Weyer live at the end of Woodland Place, directly next to the woods. While they have some hope that the plans will be changed and the trees protected, the couple is frustrated with the process and their city's leaders.

        “This was a done deal,” Mr. Weyer said Tuesday. “I believe the decisions were made months ago. Maybe they're listening, or maybe they're just telling us what we want to hear.”

        Mrs. Weyer said during Monday's meeting several residents asked that council survey people living on the affected streets to determine how they feel about the plan.

        “But they wouldn't even listen to that,” she said. “It makes me think their minds are made up.”

Project to disrupt traffic

        Mr. Earlywine said the utility relocation and burying project will disrupt traffic along the North Fort Thomas Avenue business district, a roughly five-block area in front of and near the city building.

        “The traveling public will have to put up with a little dirt, dust and noise, but we'll do what we can to keep the disruptions to a minimum,” he said.

        Complicating the time frame of the project is that the city's public works crew will perform some of the work. If workers are called or needed to do work elsewhere in the city — which Mr. Earlywine admits is likely — the project will face delays.

        Removing overhead lines is the first and key phase of a plan to reconfigure the business district, a proposal city leaders hope brings new merchants and shoppers to the city's commercial core.

        The overall plan has been drafted by Fort Thomas Forward, a group of residents and business leaders appointed by council more than a year ago to study redeveloping the business district.

        The plan, which could cost as much as $12 million in private and public money, has not been approved by council but is scheduled to be voted on this month.

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- Utility wires plan runs into sparks
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