A few years back, the Historical Commission wanted to restore the ‘foundry’ at the old DPW. Just the thought of taking something that was ugly, continued to be ugly and made much uglier by age was the height of absurdity. I am an historic preservationist but there is a limit called, ‘common sense’. You use adaptive re-use so an historic building can not only retain value but have its value enhanced. Take an historic shack and restore it and you have a nice shack but that’s it. In the end, the Foundry was basically reconstituted drastically and now looks attractive – oh, let’s be honest – it was remodeled and renovated.
National Grid and its piggybacked allies of cable and telephone, have retained the nineteenth century wooden pole because of tax-evasion. If they underground the lines, they will have to pay property taxes. But undergrounding is more 21st century. It is safer and if done right, easier to maintain without roaring utility trucks up and down our quiet streets. It enhances our city’s looks, stops damaging our trees and increases our property values. These tax-evaders have been successful in lobbying the State House so that if a city wants to underground the lines, the taxpayers have to pay for it with a surcharge (and here is the good one) and each homeowner must pay to be connected to the underground lines.
Filthy dogs I say! When Geordie Vining tried to underground the lines for Brown Square, it was like tying fire brands on a cat’s tail. The wail was deafening. And yet, it is our best interest to make sure undergrounding happens. That is why our city codes demand undergrounding for new construction and for housing developments.
This is why the City looking to save money on the short run is walking on eggshells. The streetlights are largely attached to these telephone poles that eventually need to come down. This begs many questions. If we buy the streetlights, are we buying in effect the telephone poles? If we buy the telephone poles, and we want to underground the lines; will we pay significantly less for the undergrounding since they are our poles? If we own them, can we start planning for the phasing out and replacing of stand-alone lights? Or, is National Grid winking at us saying, “Why sure! We would love to trap the City. Since the lights are attached, we avoid paying taxes but now the City is dependent on these poles and they must stay up.”
As you can see, the answers to these questions will have far-reaching ramification even beyond the legal issues.
A lot of discussion needs to happen before we make a Faustian pact with the utility companies!