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Cottage Grove utilities to go out of sight, out of mind

The city of Cottage Grove may soon be following the recent trend to ditch the bulky power poles and bring the lines underground in an effort to curb outages resulting from downed power lines and conform to current aesthetics.

Xcel Energy has partnered with the city to facilitate a program that will remove overhead power lines that impede on recent development and replace them with underground power wires.

Electrical undergrounding was first discussed in the city's Public Works Department in February when staff recognized seven high-traffic areas that would benefit from the removal of power lines. A $7.6 million price tag is attached to the entire project, but City Engineer Jennifer Levitt said it may be more cost-effective to look at each project individually.

"Looking at the full cost, that number can be staggering," Levitt admitted. "We recommend looking at this on a project by project basis to identify cost efficiencies."

The Cottage Grove City Council discussed three of the seven projects last week and determined only two were feasible.

The council nixed a $485,000 project on Hinton Avenue between 70th and 80th streets. The project would have included the installation of four padmount switches (a ground-mounted electric power transformer), two load break centers (creates and breaks electric currents) and about 3,000 feet of cable.

Mayor Myron Bailey, who is a proponent of putting power wires underground, said he would like to see the power poles on Hinton Avenue removed.

"I think where we have the opportunity to go underground we should go underground," he said.

Despite shutting out one project, the council did agree to move forward with two others.

The first project proposes to relocate electrical distribution and remove 13 poles along East Point Douglas Road in anticipation of Walmart and the Shoppes at Cottage View. Approximately 2,700 feet of cable is proposed to go underground from Menards to the Walmart site, as well as the installation of three load breaker centers.

Levitt said Xcel Energy will cover the cost of removing poles that are in direct conflict with the city's building project and the city must pay for the rest.

"Walmart is paying for a substantial part of this," City Administrator Ryan Schroeder said. "We haven't talked specifically with Walmart about electrical undergrounding but I believe a portion of this could be reasonably covered by Walmart. And, the (city's) portion I believe could be paid for out of our road construction fund."

The second project the council agreed to move forward with is in the area of Keats Avenue and 70th Street, west of Joliet Avenue South. Costing just over $48,000, the project proposes to relocate the pole line on the south side of 70th Street from Joliet Avenue to Keats Avenue. The power line will then go underground at the pole west of Joliet to the north side of 70th Street. From there, the underground power line will continue east and rise up to a pole just north of the 70th Street and Keats Avenue intersection.

Also included in the cost is the installation of a load breaker center. Levitt said the cable will be installed by directional bore, or horizontal directional drilling.

Levitt added she would obtain a contract from Xcel Energy and bring it before the council in order to "execute those arrangements."

"I don't want to see overhead power lines in new developments," Bailey said in regard to conforming to aesthetics. "If we put those (power wires) underground, let's put them all underground."