Councilors Press for Undergrounding Lines on South Ivy

At least two council members are calling on the city to press for overhead power lines and other utilities to be undergrounded (i.e., buried) along a section of South Ivy Street that is planned for a major overhaul in the summer and fall of 2022.

Councilor Greg Parker said at last week’s regular meeting that the subject of undergrounding had come up during a recent conversation he’d had with Canby Fire Chief Jim Davis, reflecting on the historic and destructive wildfires the state has experienced this year.

“2020 showed us what high winds and overhead electric lines can do during a hot, dry summer,” Parker said. “And Chief Davis said to me, ‘If you want to limit fire exposure in the future, underground power at every opportunity.’ We’re at a moment where we can decide that.”

The project, which has been in the works for at least eight years, is designed to bring the stretch of South Ivy — from Highway 99E to Lee Elementary School — up to city standards, with sidewalks, ADA ramps, a bicycle lane and a new traffic signal at the intersection with Township Road near Bethany Church.

South Ivy is just one of a long menu of roads that lie within city limits but which are maintained by Clackamas County. Many of them are in various states of disrepair.

The city can agree to accept maintenance and jurisdiction of such roads, but generally requires them to be brought up to certain standards first, which is the case here.

The current plans for the project do not call for the undergrounding of utility lines along this route, but as both Parker and Councilor Sarah Spoon pointed out, this would be the time to do it if it is ever to be done.

“I bring it up tonight because we’re running out of time,” Parker said. “The Clackamas County Engineering Department is going to be closing its plan for engineering of this project in 10 days. What is on paper Nov. 1 are the items that are going to be installed.”

Current city codes require utilities to be undergrounded for new construction, but do not address the issue for reconstruction, which is the case here.

“This is our one shot at doing it,” Spoon agreed. “The summers are not getting cooler and they’re not getting wetter. If, in the coming years, there is a fire because we did not underground utilities, they’re going to look back on us now and say, ‘Why didn’t they do this when the opportunity existed?’

“It will 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.”

Spoon called for city leaders to work together with representatives of Canby Utility — which owns and manages the lines — and the county to add this to the South Ivy project, before it’s too late.

“This is a 50-year opportunity,” Spoon said. “We either do it now, or it’s not done. And I think our community deserves for it to be done now.”

Parker said he has spoken with Canby’s new city administrator, Scott Archer, and said he “agrees that undergrounding utilities makes sense.”

He concluded his remarks by appealing directly to Dan Murphy, Canby Utility’s general manager since 2015.

“Dan, he’s prepared to meet with you tomorrow to discuss this,” Parker said. “We’ve got one chance, 10 days, to build this for a generation. Time is running out.”

On Twitter this weekend, Canby Mayor Brian Hodson also joined the chorus.

“I have been calling on this to happen,” he said. “Whenever we have this opportunity, and it makes sense to do so, we should look at every option to make undergrounding power happen.”

Reached Saturday, Parker told The Canby Current that the city does not yet have an estimate for how much it would cost to underground utilities on South Ivy.

The price tag for the original project was estimated at $2.1 million.

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