Westar reassures residents
In a face-off reminiscent of Dr. Seuss’s “The Lorax,” about a dozen Fourth Street residents met with representatives from Westar Energy to discuss what would happen to the trees when new utility poles are installed in the third phase of Fourth Street improvements.
On June 30 the group discussed the city’s plan to follow Westar’s recommendations to move the utility poles back to six feet from the curb for a scheduled street expansion project.
The Westar officials insisted that the trees in the affected area would not need to be trimmed more than they would for a regular trimming and few, if any, trees would need to be cut down.
“I don’t want to cut trees — I like trees — but trees and power lines don’t mix,” said Jim Godbout, part of the utility placement design team for Westar.
The change in pole location came after Westar sent a letter informing the city the company would not be liable for any accidents that may occur if their recommended guidelines were not followed.
The road improvements were designed to have the poles 1.5 feet behind the curb, but Westar said there wasn’t enough room for someone to react and avoid a collision with the pole if a vehicle were to jump the curb. This concern was echoed by Brian Kingsley of BG consultants, the city’s engineering firm, who said during the meeting that any more time that could be given to a driver to return to the road was needed.
The residents, who came to relay their grievances to Westar and to the city, said they were lied to by the city because they all agreed to the plan that had the poles closer to the curb when the city came to acquire easements.
“It’s aggravating that we signed an agreement and were told where the poles would be and now they want to change it,” Paula Crook, councilmember and Fourth Street resident, said Monday. “They should have straightened this out beforehand. I don’t know why (Westar) would approve the plan, then come back and change everything.”
Robb Titus, Westar supervisor for distribution design technical support, said Westar has recently changed its policy to make sure that utility poles are set back as far into utility easement as possible to avoid any accidents involving vehicles.
He said Westar is going to use a taller pole that has the wires aligned vertically to avoid the need to cut down or trim more trees than would have been necessary with the current T-shaped power lines.
Duane Nible, a Fourth Street resident, asked the council to put the lines in the ground, but Titus said the cost would be too great.
“It can be done, but it’s very expensive,” Titus said. “Somebody needs to pay the difference between the underground lines and the overhead lines, and then residents would have to pay additionally for hooking into an underground service.”
The difference was roughly estimated at more than half a million dollars.
The underground lines also may not solve the tree problem.
Michael Horniman, a vegetation management supervisor for Westar, said underground lines would do more damage to trees if their roots were destroyed than just a simple trimming.
In the end, most residents were still upset with Westar’s decision, but some of the property owners, including Crook, were glad to hear that the redesign of the utility placement also eliminated the need for guy-wires to be placed in her yard.
The city will continue the discussion on Fourth Street at the next regular Tonganoxie City Council meeting on Monday.