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Utilities could be headed underground

As part of continued efforts to get Port Orchard’s revitalization underway, the City Council agreed this week to take the first step in planning to moving utility lines underground in the downtown.

Council members voted unanimously on Tuesday to allow for an agreement with Puget Sound Energy to provide preliminary layouts and firm up costs for a project that would remove eletricity, cable and telephone lines from overhead poles and bury them in trenches on the north side of Bay Street.

The cost for engineering could top $50,000, with funding coming from the city’s property taxes, said Public Works Director Maher Abed.

The council agreed to allow Abed to begin the process, however an engineering estimate will have to be reviewed before any funds are made available.

One detail yet to be discussed is how Port Orchard will convince local business owners to foot the costs for connecting their businesses to the new underground lines.

“We should make sure (Puget Sound) looks at other alternatives that might be less expensive,” Councilman Bob Geiger said.

Council members agreed moving the lines would help change the “face of the city,” eliminating overhead hazards and obstructions for future building projects that could be forthcoming.

Abed briefly outlined a program Port Orchard could enter into with PSE that would have the utility company paying 60 percent and the city paying for 40 percent of the costs of putting the lines underground.

But the city would be responsible for digging the trenches along the south side of Bay Street — and for the traffic difficulties such a project would create.

“It’s still very early” in the process, Abed said. “We’ve had no dialogue with businesses because we don’t have enough information. This contract will clarify the parameters and confirm costs so that we can start the process.”

Councilman John Clausen urged officials to also consider planning for fiber-optic cables or other services while the trenches are open.

The decision to authorize the contract came on the same night the council approved a contract to upgrade the city’s marquee.

Still, some business owners were cautiously optimistic spending money on the marquee and utilities would actually get the city’s revitalization rolling.

“I wish they’d start tomorrow. We’re doing everything we can to clean up the downtown,” said Dennis Lei, owner of Puget Sound Wine Cellar and vice president of the Port Orchard Downtown Merchant’s Association. “Undergrounding the utilities is a major step.”

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