Failure to move power lines isn’t a ‘disaster’

Editorial Board • Sep 17, 2018 at 6:00 PM

It was a bit of a stretch for Kingsport Mayor John Clark to say that the failure of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen to do something with power lines along Main Street has set the city back 20 years. But his frustration with the BMA was not, as one alderwoman suggested, an attempt to turn members against each other.

More so than other local governments, the Kingsport BMA historically has attempted to present a united front on issues in the apparent belief that there is strength in unity, and that public disagreement undermines that.

But a healthy debate is the cornerstone of democracy and helps the electorate understand the positions and thinking processes of those they put in place to conduct their business.

Mayor Clark believes the unsightly power lines along one of the city’s corridors must be dealt with, and we agree with him. But a flair for the dramatic doesn’t invite support for his position.

A resolution to relocate the power poles failed to garner a second at a recent meeting, and enhancements with Main Street will now proceed with the lines staying where they are. That’s hardly the “flat-out disaster” that Mayor Clark describes. Nor is it likely, as he stated, that because the lines will stay in place Kingsport will not attract additional downtown investment.

“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,” Clark said.

But the city has made numerous investments downtown that have attracted private investment, most notably the huge apartment complex currently under construction along West Sullivan, Clinchfield and Press streets. And private initiatives will continue once that project is occupied, driven by demand for services.

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, which would include paving and aesthetic improvements, 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 poles across the street at $2.28 million, or move them to the other side of the railroad tracks at $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.

For the majority of the board, the issue basically came down to cost. Several members said relocating the lines was simply too much money and that other projects would realize a greater return on investment.

At some point, we dare say, those lines will be moved. Meantime, the world won’t end for Kingsport, and the process of debate that played out on this issue was beneficial because it is such a debate, and not a united front, that gets the public involved.

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