Canby May Use City Funds to Bury Utilities on South Ivy

Several weeks of dialogue between officials with the city and Canby Utility have brought significant progress on the idea of undergrounding, or burying, utilities along a section of South Ivy Street as part of a long-planned improvement project — as long as Canby agrees to foot the majority of the bill.

Councilors Greg Parker and Sarah Spoon raised the possibility of undergrounding several months ago, based on feedback from Canby Fire District about the importance of burying power lines at every opportunity — particularly in light of this year’s destructive wildfires in Clackamas County and throughout Oregon.

Canby municipal codes require utilities to be undergrounded for new construction, but not re-building projects like this one.

In late October, Canby Utility General Manager Dan Murphy appeared to signal disinterest in pursuing this aspect of the project, citing the low wildfire risk associated with overhead power lines in urban areas.

But the conversations continued, and at a recent Canby City Council meeting, Councilor Parker praised Murphy, along with Mayor Brian Hodson and Council President Tim Dale, for pushing the discussions forward.

According to the city, Murphy proposed a compromise, by which Canby Utility would allow the lines to be undergrounded, provided the city covers most of the cost. Canby Utility would also contribute the amount it would have spent on relocating and replacing poles (approximately $200,000) toward the project.

The city does not yet have an estimate for undergrounding lines along that section of South Ivy, but the cost of burying existing utilities is known to be almost prohibitively expensive in many cases.

In an October email to The Canby Current, Murphy referred to undergrounding as the “much-more-costly alternative.”

Whatever the cost, Parker believes there is likely to be space in the city budget, created by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Given the fact that Covid has impacted city operations, we’re not doing some of the things we thought we were going to do,” Parker explained at the meeting.

He said he approached new City Administrator Scott Archer about exploring the possibility, with the caveat that he avoid any amendments to the budget that would impact city operations, reserves or contingency funds.

“I think the key here is going to be determining what the cost certain will be for the city,” Archer said. “But I would say I’m reasonably confident to tell you there are funds available, and depending on what the final cost to the city is, I hope can make this work.”

Other elected officials expressed support for the compromise.

“This is a monumental project for Canby,” said Mayor Hodson. “It would be a long multi-generational impact if we can add this component to it, much like we did with First Avenue. … I think this is one of those defining council moves, so if we can get this figured out, this could be a really big win.”

Councilor Shawn Varwig compared the South Ivy project to a home improvement or remodeling project, where he looks back and realizes that he could have spent a little bit more and greatly increased the return on investment.

“That’s where I’m at,” he said. “I think this is something that if we don’t do it, we’re going to regret it. I don’t want to drive down Ivy every day regretting the fact that we didn’t at least look to see if we could come up with a few dollars to help out with it.”

Councilor Spoon agreed with her colleagues, though she admitted “my feelings on this are no secret.”

“It’s a legacy project for the community,” she said. “If we don’t do it now, it’s not going to get done for 60 or 70 years. If we have the money to participate and some agreement from [Canby Utility], I’m all for it.”

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