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Baxter City Council: Temporary overhead power lines should go back underground

BAXTER - This week travelers in Baxter may get a close view of a trio of power lines strung on the east side of the new roundabout not far from Forestview Middle School.

A construction worker moves earth along the new roundabout at Highland Scenic Road/Crow Wing County Highway 48. Baxter creates ordinance requiring power lines to be below ground turning back a request by Crow Wing Power to keep them aloft. Renee Richardson/Brainerd Dispatch
A construction worker moves earth along the new roundabout at Highland Scenic Road/Crow Wing County Highway 48. Baxter creates ordinance requiring power lines to be below ground turning back a request by Crow Wing Power to keep them aloft. Renee Richardson/Brainerd Dispatch

BAXTER - This week travelers in Baxter may get a close view of a trio of power lines strung on the east side of the new roundabout not far from Forestview Middle School.

The power lines were underground before the road construction project that is part of the Isle Drive extension. The addition of the roundabout came as Isle Drive now connects with Highway 48, also known as Highland Scenic Road. The power lines were lifted to get them out of the way of the construction project. During construction meetings, the city of Baxter, its construction representatives and Crow Wing Power all discussed the move as a temporary relocation.

Recently Crow Wing Power representative Chris Olson, safety administrator, asked the city council to make the move permanent. And Crow Wing Power said the cost to put the lines back underground would cost about $41,000.

Council member Steve Barrows said Crow Wing Power had the chance to speak to the issue during construction meetings and didn't. Barrows said he thought the lines should go back underground and the city shouldn't have to pay for it. Council member Quinn Nystrom agreed.

Tom Rutske, representing Johnson Properties, which owns property near the roundabout and by the power lines, said it looked like a snafu. Rutske said they weren't aware the power lines would remain elevated and consider them to be horribly ugly. Rutske said they were assessed a half-million to improve the value of the property but those wires have diminished the value just based on the appearance. Rutske said having the lines elevated across part of the roundabout make it look like something that was missed in the whole process and should be buried.

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Rutske said the city may want to agree to pay part of the bill to put things right as it wasn't clear what was going to be done.

Mayor Darrel Olson questioned what the city was culpable for in this instance.

"I don't think you can assume things," Rutske said. "I just want to see them gone."

Later, Chris Olson addressed the council. He agreed the overhead portion of the power line was initially supposed to be temporary. But later, after it was designed, Chris Olson said Crow Wing Power officials agreed they should leave the elevated portion in place above ground.

"I know the city council would like to have it underground," Chris Olson said.

But Chris Olson said the electrical system is better with the overhead lines.

It provides a better system for Crow Wing Power as far as connections, Chris Olson said. He said Crow Wing Power would not want someone to dig into the underground lines, which would take down every circuit.

Chris Olson agreed it was underground and pipes were laid to put it underground again, but once it was overhead they thought about how well the design worked, how it didn't have a splice and how two splices would be needed to go underground again.

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Mayor Darrel Olson was asked at what point did they change their minds. Chris Olson said it was after it was up and constructed and they thought it looked nice and they should leave it there. Chris Olson said there was no intention to pull the wool over anyone's eyes but the bottom line is the city doesn't want to pay to bury the lines and neither does Crow Wing Power when leaving it up wouldn't hurt anyone. Chris Olson said it's a huge cost that doesn't have to be borne by anyone.

Chris Olson asked about the money Crow Wing Power already spent in anticipation of putting the lines underground at the start. Olson replied the company has a lot of pipe and while it's an expense they wouldn't have had it is still something they could use in the future.

Barrows questioned why there would be a $41,000 cost to the city to bury the lines now when there wasn't a cost associated with it from the outset when the plan was to put the lines back underground. Barrows said Crow Wing Power's customer base was much larger than the number of Baxter taxpayers.

"It's not my money and it's not your money," Chris Olson said, adding the costs associated with the Isle Drive project have been much larger than Crow Wing Power expected. He estimated the costs to the company have been more than $200,000. Now he said there was another cost to bury the power lines that didn't have to be there. Chris Olson characterized it as a waste of money.

Nystrom said she appreciated Chris Olson coming to the council but said if the original plan was to put the lines underground then that's where the lines should go. Nystrom said she was concerned about the aesthetics of it.

Chris Olson said the aesthetics are a big problem to the city council but he suggested if people were asked about them in 10 years, no one would even know where the overhead line was. He said the overhead lines along Wal-Mart and Home Depot don't deter business.

Mayor Darrel Olson said he wished they would have had this conversation earlier.

At the end of the meeting, the council approved an ordinance amendment to say if any facility is now underground, any relocation or replacement shall remain underground unless there is no feasible location in the corridor.

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Council member Todd Holman was absent.

RENEE RICHARDSON, associate editor, may be reached at 218-855-5852 or renee.richardson@brainerddispatch.com . Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/Dispatchbizbuzz .

Baxter votes to create ordinance requiring power lines to be below ground affecting the new roundabout on Highland Scenic Road/Crow Wing Highway 48 turning back a request by Crow Wing Power to keep them aloft. Renee Richardson/Brainerd Dispatch
Baxter votes to create ordinance requiring power lines to be below ground affecting the new roundabout on Highland Scenic Road/Crow Wing Highway 48 turning back a request by Crow Wing Power to keep them aloft. Renee Richardson/Brainerd Dispatch

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