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October 25th, 2006 Christian Gaston | News Stories
 

Pole Position

An up-and-down story of power lines under the tram.

     
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IMAGE: MAGGIE GARDNER
When PacifiCorp erected two 70-foot black power poles at the intersection of Southwest Gibbs Street and Corbett Avenue in late June, residents were incensed.

The skyline of their Lair Hill neighborhood had already been filled with wires and cables they didn't want, thanks to the aerial tram.

But they took some small comfort that these poles would transmit a short stretch of the 115-kilowatt power line along Corbett underground instead of with overhead power lines.

Then, last week, PacifiCorp pulled up the poles after four months and installed the power line overhead again, with a shorter wooden pole at a cost of $66,500 to the city. Huh?

City officials responsible for the tram project say that decision came in response to neighbors' concerns about the aesthetics of the 70-foot poles. But resident Larry Beck and other neighbors say that's ridiculous because assistant tram-project manager Art Pearce told them last month that PacifiCorp had put those poles too close together, and that the configuration wouldn't allow the tram to safely pass.

Pearce says he doesn't remember telling residents the configuration was unsafe. He and tram manager Rob Barnard, Pearce's boss, insist the old configuration was safe but that the new above-ground line will increase clearance between the tram and the power line from 5 feet to 20 feet, improving safety during worst-case conditions such as high winds.

"We're working hard to mitigate the impacts of the tram on the neighborhood," Barnard said.

Counters Beck: "It's easy for them to say it was because of neighborhood opposition, but I don't think that passes the straight-face test."

The tram's path from South Waterfront to OHSU crosses over two high-power lines that feed downtown with electricity. One is at Southwest Barbur Boulevard, the other at the intersection of Gibbs and Corbett. In order for crews to raise the tram cables into the air, they would have needed to disable the power running through both lines. Since that would have shut off power to downtown, the city asked PacifiCorp to put the line underground while the tram cables were installed.

Barnard says the city couldn't force PacifiCorp to do the work because the utility paid for the underground line and met its obligation by moving the line once at the city's request. PacifiCorp spokesman Bernie Bottomly says undergrounding the line last June cost "north of $500,000."

Now that the tram cables are in the air and ready when the tram opens for public use in January, Barnard says the black poles can be brought down and replaced with one wooden pole similar to others on Corbett.

But don't expect residents like Stephen Leflar, who lives on Gibbs, to be placated.

"Our neighborhood is full of war-wisened veterans because of a cynical view of development," Leflar says. "For 50 years we've been screwed over by the city."

 
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