City wants to bury powerlines

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 9, 2005

The selma Times-Journal

The latest project to enhance downtown is known as the City of Selma Water Avenue Streetscape. Funding was received previously through the Department of Transportation Enhancement Program to implement it along historic Water Avenue. However, a funds match will be necessary.

Streetscape involves revamping the sidewalks on the north side of Water Avenue between Franklin Street and Broad Street to make them more pedestrian friendly. However, in preparing for the project, concerns involving the burial of unsightly power and utility cables became more apparent.

“With the increased number of tourists we are expecting as the Historic Trail becomes a reality, Water Avenue needs to put on its best front. At present it is an aerial mass of lines and cables and poles.” Mayor James Perkins Jr said. “Benefits include improved appearance, fewer outages and long-term savings compared to burying cable later; for example, ripping up Streetscape and other improvements made,” Selma Perkins

says.

The Streetscape Project committee met recently with Perkins, Community Development Director Charlotte Griffeth, City Council President George Evan, council members Jean Martin, Jannie Venter, Cecil Williamson and Bennie Crenshaw were present. A special guest was Bea Forniss, Special Projects Director’s Office of the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs. Briefings on the project were given and recommendations made by representatives of the four utility companies involved.

Ray Hogg of Hogg Engineering Corporation, who had previously submitted an application map for the project and developed plans and specifications for the Streetscape, gave a briefing, saying that he gave “50 percent submission to ALDOT. The problem in the first block, the main block on Water Avenue, is the electrical connections for the Bridge Festival and Riverfront Market, main events for the city.

“Work needs to start April 1, 2006. We can work with the Power Company. The project will change Water Avenue from four lanes to three lanes, eliminate the traffic light at Washington Street and Water and put the turn lane in the middle.”

Art Scroggins, Alabama Power, said “Putting things underground will be very costly. If a customer asks for it, they have to pay for it. A 4,000 -volt line is there; to put that underground is very expensive. We are not in a position to do that.”

The cost of the project, Scroggins says, could run as high as $500,000, which would be the responsibility of the city..

Patti Sexton, Community Development, added that “it will take two or three months to get plans and figure exact costs. There is a network system in the underground vaults. All we’re talking about is one block. A previous option calls for putting cables behind the buildings.”

“This is something we should certainly look at,” Perkins said.

Bellsouth would also be involved, Hogg says. “Hunter Humphrey and Damon Daniels responded to me, noting that relocation of the phone lines on the north side of Water Avenue between Broad Street and Franklin could be done for $750 or less. A cost estimate for the south side of water from Broad to Franklin was higher, $15,000 to $30,000.”

According to Hogg, Pinebelt Wireless has a fiber optic cable that runs from their control center on Washington Street to their office on Broad and Water. Randy Vick of Pinebelt says they would have very little trouble placing the single line underground, providing it could be done at the same time as the sidewalk construction

Charter Telecable has not yet responded, Hogg says.

Bea Forniss brought a positive note to the meeting. “I bring you good news and bad news, but let me first say that this project can be done. I have met with the mayor and Margaret Bentley of Alabama Power. It is unfortunate that the Downtown Revitalization CDBG (community development block grant) matching grant was missed, but we can use what we are calling Recaptured Funds. These are the funds that must be repaid to the state from the so-called Pork Projects, which have been eliminated.”

Forniss listed the steps that must be taken “immediately!” to secure the funds:

“First:

a letter to the governor telling him our deadline date to avoid losing the grant we already have.

“Next:

a conference call to the Delta Regional Authority to confirm that Alabama can use the Disaster Relief funds that the Katrina areas are unable to use at present. We can write a ruling to use the money in the state for Selma.

“And we must inform Congressman Artur Davis that it is better to get the money in a lump sum – $500,000.

“We must call Sen. Hank Sanders and Legislator Yusuf Salaam and inquire what they intend to do with the Recaptured Money and convince them that we need it for Streetscape.”

In the project, the sidewalks on the north side of Water, from the corner of Broad and Water, future site of the National Trail Tourism Center, will be bricked, matching those in front of the St. James Hotel. Certain light poles will be removed, also.

The meeting ended on a positive note, with July the deadline for all the plans and funds to come together.