During its regular meeting Tuesday night, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen chose not to move the poles from the north side of Main Street to either across the street or to the other side of the railroad tracks near Brickyard Park.
A resolution that would have put the city on the path of relocating the power poles did not come up for a vote. Alderman Joe Begley made the motion, but the matter failed to get a second.
For the majority of the board, the issue basically came down to money. The cost of relocating the power lines was simply too much.
“I think this is a flat-out disaster,” said a frustrated Mayor John Clark after the BMA failed to move the resolution forward. “We are not going to get investment in our downtown, and it’s my opinion this sets us back 20 years. Without making a commitment to the downtown area, we’re not going to get additional private investment funding that’s desperately needed in this town.”
FIXING MAIN STREET
Kingsport has been planning to repair Main Street for years and the project is on the cusp of getting underway. But before work could start on the $5.5 million rebuild, the BMA needed to make a decision on what to do with the overhead power lines.
City leaders had three options: Do nothing, move the transmission lines across the street ($2.28 million) or move them to the other side of the railroad tracks ($3.15 million). The distribution and communication lines currently on the power poles would go underneath the newly rebuilt Main Street in all three options.
Funding for the relocation would have come from the AEP franchise fee.
CITY LEADERS WEIGH IN
Vice Mayor Mike McIntire asked if getting rid of those poles will make a $3 million difference.
“We’ve got $400,000 set aside for beautification, and you’re committing half of that money for the next 20 years,” McIntire said.
“I’m 100 percent for moving them, and I think we have to show some commitment to downtown,” Begley said. “I think we’ve made a mistake. You’ve got to take the step sooner or later.”
Clark suggested not spending any more time recruiting businesses to town if the BMA is not willing to do what’s necessary. He further suggested that other members of the BMA should take the lead on selling and promoting the city.
Alderwoman Jennifer Adler said it was a mistake for the mayor to turn the board against each other.
“We’re all working for the same end goal,” Adler said. “This is about the price tag of this project. Every deal we do is about return on investment, and I’m not willing to spend $3.2 million on a hope.”
Alderwoman Colette George said for her it’s either an all or nothing deal.
“It’s very hard for me to put this much money in one mile,” George said. “There’s other opportunities out there, with more return.”
The recommendation of city staff was to move the power lines off Main Street and to the other side of the railroad tracks.
Ryan McReynolds, assistant city manager for operations, said city staff have been walking down 20 years’ worth of studies and direction from previous boards and commissions on this issue.
“All of those have directed us to deal with the overhead lines on Main. I’d say option one (moving to Brickyard Park) is the best value and was intended from 20 years back,” McReynolds said.
This option also gives the city more opportunities with green space to better hide the power poles, said Chris McCartt, assistant city manager for administration.
What happens now is the project will move forward. The design work is almost finished, and construction is expected to begin next spring.