Canby Utility: Overhead Lines on South Ivy Pose No Wildfire Risk

The utility poles on South Ivy Street are here to stay. Canby Utility will not add undergrounding (i.e., burying) power lines to a long-planned improvement project on that street, its general manager told The Canby Current.

The question of undergrounding utilities — particularly, electrical lines and facilities — was raised by several members of the Canby City Council during their most recent meeting on Oct. 21.

In light of the devastating wildfires that raged through the state earlier this year — at least a couple of which were attributed to downed power lines — councilors Greg Parker and Sarah Spoon called for the city to take advantage of this opportunity to bury utilities that pass by many homes and businesses, as well as an elementary school, the city pool and the Canby Adult Center.

“2020 showed us what high winds and overhead electric lines can do during a hot, dry summer,” Parker said, purportedly quoting Canby Fire Chief Jim Davis: “If you want to limit fire exposure in the future, underground power at every opportunity.”

Councilor Spoon went even further with her comments, saying that to miss out on this chance would be “a failure of us as a council; it will be a failure of the city; and it will, frankly, be a failure of the Canby Utility Board, for not making the decision when it could have been made.”

In a lengthy email response to the Current, however, Canby Utility General Manager Dan Murphy disputed that the existing utilities on South Ivy pose any threat to residents’ health and safety.

“There are no wildfire risks of any significance associated with this overhead electric line,” Murphy said. “This line has been overhead in this same location for many years operating safely and is regularly maintained. There are no forests nearby.”

Overhead electric lines are still widely accepted as the most cost-efficient and reliable method of utility construction, Murphy said, provided tree trimming is regularly performed.

“We keep tree limbs cut away from this line and our other numerous overhead lines, but we are urban and do not have wildfire risks like rural electric providers such as PGE,” he said. “Clackamas County has not mentioned any concerns related to wildfire risks associated with this road-widening project and our subject overhead line.”

The current plans for the project will require some utility poles to be resituated several feet farther back to facilitate road widening and sidewalk construction, Murphy said. The existing poles will be pushed back and reused if they are in good enough condition, he said; otherwise, they will be replaced.

Because the line was initially built in the county’s right-of-way, Canby Utility will be responsible for the relocation expenses.

“Preliminarily, our plan is to meet the county’s requirements for space following the least-cost approach to minimize construction costs to Canby Utility for the benefit of Canby’s rate-paying families and businesses,” Murphy explained.

“Since Clackamas County has approved our plans for resituating the poles in question, we have no plans to completely rebuild this line either overhead or the much-more-costly underground construction alternative.”

Canby Utility is currently in the early planning process for the project — which is slated for 2022 — and are estimating costs. The project will also include the addition of sidewalks, ADA ramps, a bicycle lane and a new traffic signal at the intersection of South Ivy and Township Road near Bethany Church.

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