Council shifts focus on highway utility line project

Council has decided not to seek a meeting with the chair of BC Hydro and the provincial energy minister to pursue the planned placing of utility lines underground along Hwy. 16 in the downtown core.

That’s because the District of Houston is already applying to BC Hydro for a grant to help cover part of the costs of placing the crown corporation’s lines underground as part of a larger project to also put Telus and CityWest lines underground.

This project was to take place this year but council shelved the plan in July when bids received were in excess of the allocated budget. And that prompted council to ask for the meeting to secure BC Hydro’s support. It now plans to do the work next year.

BC Hydro did provide a grant to be used had the project to do away with power poles along Hwy. 16 gone ahead this year. The District will now need to re-apply for next year.

“In the coming months, staff will perform preliminary estimates for the inclusion of the above ground utility burial project in the 2021 Financial Plan,” District of Houston chief administrative officer Gerald Pinchbeck noted in a memo to council.

“The revision of the project will aid BC Hydro Beautification Fund applications and could yield greater interest from bidders in 2021.”

Placing utility lines underground along Hwy. 16 in the downtown area is part of the District’s larger beautification vision, one that includes better lighting and sidewalks.

One other BC Hydro program the District can’t yet use provides money to help pay for putting decorative wraps around transformer boxes.

District staffers had contemplated applying for money because its undergrounding project means transformers now on BC Hydro power poles will be placed on ground-level pads instead.

“Upon supplemental information provided by staff after receiving information from BC Hydro, no action was taken on this item. This is because the decorative wrap program is only available to finance existing utility boxes, as opposed to new ones,” said Pinchbeck.

Each wrap costs approximately $800 and a successful grant from BC Hydro could cover up to $700. Eight pad-mounted transformers are to be installed.

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