Stillwater Considers Surcharge Fee to Fund Burying Electrical Lines Downtown

During an otherwise monotonous Stillwater City Council discussion about renewing gas and electric franchise fees for the year, emerged interesting talks about burying the power lines downtown — for a surcharge fee.

Burying the electrical would take the power poles out of the line of sight in Lowell Park, and in downtown, but it comes at a cost.

A preliminary, rough-cost estimate of burying the electrical lines downtown is about $1.5 million, Stillwater Public Works Director Shawn Sanders told the council.

City staff has been working with Xcel Energy for the last several months to review franchise fees,Stillwater City Attorney Dave Magnuson said. During those conversations, city staff “tried to convince Xcel that they should fund the undergrounding of electrical lines downtown, at their expense.”

But Xcel wouldn’t bite.

“Even though there are a lot of equities connected with (burying the lines), they are just absolutely unwilling to do it,” Magnuson said. “There’s just no legal way to compel them to do it.”

One possible way to fund the undergrounding  of electrical lines is through a city-requested surcharge option that could add up to a $4.50 per month surcharge to residential properties for up to five years. The monthly surcharge could be as high as four times that amount for “large commercial rate payers.”

“That (surcharge) would generate enough money to pay for the under grounding of the electricity on Water Street,” Magnuson said. “You have the option to consider in the future. It is not part of this franchise fee — nothing is changing, but the option is available to you.”

“I personally think it’s an absolutely fantastic idea,” Council Member Tom Weidner said. “Start with a good foundation and go from there.”

Stillwater Mayor Ted Kozlowski agreed.

“Ever since Council Member (Mike) Polehna pointed those lines out to me, it’s all I see down there,” Kozlowski said. “It’s terrible.”

The Council did not take any action on the surcharge fees.

City staff was directed to continue working with Xcel to fine tune the costs associated with burying the electrical lines, and look at funding options through surcharges and city coffers. The council will take up the discussion at a later date.

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