As part of its plans to revitalize the downtown business district, the Bingen City Council has unanimously voted to place most utility wires underground.
"We want to move the utilities out of the SR 14 corridor," explained Mayor Brian Prigel during the June 4 meeting of the Bingen City Council. "We want the corridor cleared of wires -- all wires -- phone, cable, and electric. And we need to make a decision whether to put new power poles on Depot Street, or go underground. If we are going to the effort of moving the utilities anyway, they ought to go underground. That's my personal preference."
The area targeted to be cleared of overhead wires runs from Maple Street to Walnut Street.
Yet to be determined are what the costs may be, and how the project will be paid for.
With repaving of State Route 14 expected to begin in September, the council needed to decide whether to put new utility poles along Depot Street or run the wires underground instead.
Prigel said the Klickitat Public Utility District is in the process of determining the costs for various options. The PUD has also agreed to pay $32,000 of the costs, as that figure represents what the PUD would have had to pay to move poles for the upcoming SR 14 construction work.
"If the ultimate vision is to develop Depot Street as well, it would be money better spent to go ahead and do this [undergrounding wires] now," said City Council member Teresa Schuemann. "If we're going to go underground eventually, let's do it now because it will cost a lot more in five years. It seems like we'd be paying double-duty to go overhead now and underground later."
Prigel noted that local business owners might have to share some of the costs.
"Business owners are aware we're trying to do this," he said. "There may be costs to them, and we're trying to find out what the impact would be, and whether the city can pick up part of that cost. We want to minimize impacts to building owners, but I'd like to think they could pick up a little bit of the cost."
Council member Larry Murphy agreed that undergrounding was the best choice, but he wanted the city to ensure it would come up with a scheme that had the "least impacts on building owners."
"I don't want to make things harder on them [business onwers]," said Murphy, "as hard as it already is."
Prigel estimated that the expenses to affected business owners could range from a low of about $300 to as high as $2,000.
Mike Jablonski, who owns the building the Bingen post office is located in, said he thought cleaning up the wires downtown would be good, but he questioned making business owners help with much of the costs.
"The wires there are a mess," Jablonski said. "But this would benefit the entire city, so I'm not sure why the building owners should have to pay."
Bob Dobyne, owner of Mirror Image, also wondered what the bill would be.
"It's neat [to remove the wires] when you're starting new. But what does it cost?" Dobyne questioned.
"I would still go underground, because in the long run that will ultimately benefit those buildings," Schuemann said.
Council member Laura Mann said details were needed on the price of the project before decisions could be finalized.
"It's only fair that we know what those differences in costs are," Mann said.
Mann asked whether SDS Lumber Co. would help pay for the cost of moving a portion of its main power transmission line underground.
"Would it be out of line to write a letter to SDS about its feeder line, and say, `we estimate it will cost this much, are you willing to contribute to the downtown revitalization and help move this underground,'" Mann asked.
"The main SDS feeder line would be an expensive one to move, and it would be a goodwill gesture if SDS picked up that cost," Prigel said. "But they are not required to do so."
Later in the week, city officials held a meeting to discuss options for the project, and Prigel said he was happy with the results.
"We met with the PUD and a consultant, and it was a pretty good meeting," Prigel said. "For the most part, the impacts to building owners will be minimal. Once we have cost estimates, we'll meet with building owners. The city will pick up a substantial portion of the cost."
Prigel believes undergrounding now would actually serve to save the city some money.
"In the long-term, if we want to see Depot Street developed, it makes sense to do this now," he said.