Steamboat Springs McKinley Street resident Debbie Metscher last week watched as new power lines were installed on her side of the street. She is upset the lines were not put underground.

Photo by Matt Stensland

Steamboat Springs McKinley Street resident Debbie Metscher last week watched as new power lines were installed on her side of the street. She is upset the lines were not put underground.

Steamboat Springs residents at odds with overhead power lines

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— An effort to supply more reliable power to the Strawberry Park area is causing headaches for some residents along McKinley Street near Steamboat Springs High School.

At issue is the construction of larger power lines and poles, which are replacing smaller ones on the other side of McKinley Street.

“It’s so sad,” said Debbie Metscher, who has lived on the quaint street for 22 years. “It should have gone underground. I can’t believe Yampa Valley (Electric Association) is letting this happen.”

Aesthetics is probably Metscher’s biggest concern, but she also is worried about her property value.

Metscher said she learned about the project in February. Her efforts to lobby city and YVEA officials in the following months proved unsuccessful last week as three large poles were erected along McKinley Street.

YVEA General Manager Larry Covillo said the decision was made not to put the lines underground because of the added cost.

“My members have told me in surveys they are very interested in low rates,” Covillo said.

City Manager Jon Roberts said staff attorney Dan Foote looked into the issue.

“His legal determination is that Yampa Valley Electric has the authority under the franchise agreement with the city to relocate existing, above ground lines,” Roberts said. “The city did request that Yampa Valley put them underground, but Yampa Valley declined the request and the city has no legal authority to force them to underground the lines.”

Covillo said the power lines are being upgraded to increase reliability in the Strawberry Park area.

“That was the cheapest and easiest way to deal with it,” Covillo said.

The new lines mostly will follow the existing lines that head out to Strawberry Park. Along McKinley Street, YVEA wanted to move the lines across the street and onto the city’s right-of-way along the road. Covillo said this is because the existing lines are going through yards and private property. It also will be cheaper to install the new poles and lines on the other side of the street because they do not have to be built around live wires.

Covillo said impacted residents were notified in January about the work. The next month, at the request of residents along McKinley Street, YVEA provided an estimate of $122,000 for what it would cost to bury the line for 500 feet along the street.

“The homeowners all said, ‘We’re not going to do it; we can’t afford it,’” Covillo said.

He said the city does have a fund to bury lines underground, but it is in deficit because of the work completed in the alley between Yampa Street and Lincoln Avenue. That $2.1 million project to put utility lines underground for a seven-block stretch was paid for partially with an “undergrounding fund.”

Every YVEA customer within Steamboat’s city limits pays a 4 percent franchise fee on each bill. YVEA remits those revenues to the city quarterly. Since 1999, 1 percent of that franchise fee has been allocated to an undergrounding fund for projects to bury utility lines. The fund generated $193,000 in 2010.

With no one willing to put up the money, Covillo said YVEA did not feel it was economical to bury the line. He said burying a line typically costs $250 per foot compared with the $15 per foot it costs to put them overhead, and burying the line along McKinley Street would have added $107,000 to the total $340,000 cost of the project, which stretches to Routt County Road 38.

“If I do it everywhere, people probably couldn’t afford electricity,” Covillo said.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com

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