It’s hard to understand why a city invests $30 million-or-so into its most attractive real estate – like the downtown Trail riverfront – but leaves in aging and unsightly utility poles that take away the charm.
So what’s the deal?
The matter bubbled to the surface after the $8-million Trail Riverfront Centre opened this spring. The walk down Dewdney Avenue toward the wonderful new landmark has little ambiance because of FortisBC power poles lining the lane and utility lines criss-crossing every which way imaginable.
Garish black cables overhead and sun-faded poles snuggled up to the old buildings, distract from what could be a feature pathway through the old part of city, with great river views and its uniquely “Trail” character.
The matter came to light again this week when the Trail Times was treated to a top-to-bottom tour of the Crown Columbia All-Suite Boutique Hotel. Extensive renovations will surely restore this heritage site to its former glory, and make it much better with all new modern amenities blended in with historic features.
However, when looking out the second floor toward the majestic Columbia River – the view is utterly obscured by line upon line of utility, which sadly ruins the experience.
Unfortunately, paying to change the visual – by digging up the street and placing the lines underground – is much trickier than if the upgrade was for function rather than appeal.
“The poles and infrastructure you refer to are owned by Fortis,” began Chief Administrative Officer David Perehudoff, from the City of Trail.
“In this regard, the infrastructure does not form part of the city’s asset inventory and there is no provision within the capital plan to move the lines underground.”
FortisBC has been approached in the past to determine where the eventual line and pole replacements fit within their capital plan, but there is nothing on the horizon, Perehudoff said.
“They would, however, move the lines underground if compensated directly for the cost.”
While the city doesn’t have a current cost estimate, the full price tag to move the lines underground and repave the alley, would likely exceed $500,000.
Perehudoff says it would be up to Trail council to determine if this expenditure would be justified for infrastructure that the city is not directly responsible for.
“And for what would amount to aesthetic reasons or to improve the view, when considering limited capital moneys available and other capital demands” he explained.
“The budget advanced each year for council’s review and approval includes numerous capital priorities as part of the city’s management of $100 million-plus of assets that the city does own and is responsible for. Every year, high priority projects are deferred or delayed as council tries to balance expenditure demands, but also tries to ensure that key assets are being upgraded with available funding while maintaining a reasonable level of property taxation.”
He clarified another key factor in paying for a visual improvement rather than a functional utility upgrade.
“Fortis has made it very clear that as a regulated company, the B.C. Utilities Commission would not approve a capital plan that involves the investment of ratepayer funds to improve views,” Perehudoff said.
“The investment, from this perspective, would be the responsibility of the benefiting property or properties as per the city’s local improvement policy.”
In other words, the job could go ahead if local businesses paid for it.
“The rationalization or justification when investing public funds, whether it be Fortis or the City of Trail, must consider a number of factors,” Perehudoff said.
“And, unfortunately, aesthetics and view improvement would not be seen as a priority,” he continued. “When core infrastructure needs are already underfunded and further increases in funding would result in increases to all the ratepayers or taxpayers without the corresponding ‘public’ benefit.”
A quick rundown of the city’s major riverfront investments to date include: $230,000 in 2018’s budget to complete a new parking lot across from the Riverfront Centre; $8.2-million construction of the Trail Riverfront Centre in 2017/18, though well over $2 million was collectively donated toward the facility; $15-million to build the Columbia River Skywalk plus $300,000+ for landscaping in 2016/2017; and $510,000 to light up the Victoria Street Bridge back in 2016.
All is not lost, however. But it is a bit complicated.
“The city does have a Local Improvement Policy,” Perehudoff explained.
“If the city received a petition from the owners of the buildings adjacent the alley, the policy indicates for underground wiring and ornamental street lights, commercial owners would be 100 per cent responsible for these costs.”
In order for a petition to be sufficient and valid, it must be signed by the owners of at least 50 per cent of the parcels that would be subject to the local service tax. Also, the persons signing the petition must be the owners of parcels that in total represent at least 50 per cent of the assessed value.
“Under the policy and supporting legislation, if a valid petition was received, council may include the expenditure in the capital plan,”Perehudoff concluded. “And fund it from the city’s Local Improvement Fund and/or from general capital revenue and then add the cost with interest to the benefiting properties, which would be amortized and repaid over a 25-year term.”