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Beacon Hill to improve traffic owners buried power lines

13 August 2009 1,094 views No Comment

Homeowners in a west Beacon Hill neighborhood were excited about Sound Transit’s new light-rail system, until power lines were strung over their homes, days before the grand opening.

Now an 80-foot-high pole sits between two houses, visible from highways and other hills.

“Everybody in the whole city can see where we live, just by looking up,” says Nick Papini, whose once-clear views of Smith Tower and King Street Station are now obstructed.

The residents want the city to bury the lines underground, which wasn’t done, city officials say, because the cost was too high.

Neighbors say neither Seattle City Light nor Sound Transit notified them or performed environmental studies before the wires were strung July 9 across newly installed poles to replace a smaller set of lines. Train service began July 18.

At a recent sidewalk gathering of 37 people, several asserted the city would never do this in areas with more money or clout, such as Magnolia, Queen Anne or the Admiral area where Mayor Greg Nickels lives, above Alki Beach.

“Beacon Hill has too many wires already. This is adding insult to injury,” said resident Tina Ray. Some have talked to an attorney but have not decided whether to sue.

The $200,000 wiring on the hill was part of a $650,000 project in Sodo and under Interstate 5, done by the city and paid for by Sound Transit, said Scott Thomsen, a City Light spokesman.

The feeder lines serve three purposes, Thomsen said — to provide a second power source to the new Link trains in case of an outage; to improve the power supply to King County Metro Transit’s electric buses; and to serve expected growth in Rainier Valley.

He said the decision was made before Link construction started five years ago.

Neighbors got some sympathy from a City Light customer-service engineer, Bryan Leuschen, who visited them in response to a complaint.

“I clearly saw that damage to part of their view, and I passed that on to the powers that be” at the utility, he said.

City Light engineers discussed the issue last month and still believe it would have cost $1.5 million to bury the wires using conventional drilling, or $5 million to bore a 4-foot-wide microtunnel, said Thomsen.

“Every alternative was a huge increase in cost,” he said.

The residents also ask why Sound Transit wouldn’t spend some of the rail line’s $2.3 billion budget to preserve the hillside’s beauty, after the agency spent $5 million for public art.

Sound Transit spokesman Geoff Patrick referred questions to City Light, saying the wiring method was solely the city’s decision, as City Light did the work.

Besides running the city, Nickels is chairman of the Sound Transit governing board. Nickels spokesman Alex Fryer said the city spent millions undergrounding wires in South Seattle during rail construction on Martin Luther King Jr. Way South.

Asked if west Beacon Hill was being treated worse than other areas, Fryer said he couldn’t talk about “hypotheticals” and that cost is the issue.

“There are distribution lines crisscrossing the city, in every neighborhood,” Fryer said. “That’s a part of urban life.”

But he acknowledged, “Maybe the community outreach that should have been done, wasn’t done.”

Some of the 12th Avenue residents intend to air their grievances to the City Council.

“They thought they could get away with doing whatever they wanted, because this is Beacon Hill,” said resident Rick Fried. “This will not happen anymore.”

By Mike Lindblom

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