How ironic to read that the 5th Ward councilperson recently objected to pausing the design phase for a new sewer line on the grounds that project costs would continue increasing if action were not taken soon. Ironic because the same councilperson actively supported “pausing” construction on the new electric substation and transmission line earlier this year. (See council minutes from January 19 ). Unlike the sewer line, whose projected costs have rapidly increased, the transmission line project was, at the time it was paused, on time and within the allocated money for the transmission and substation budget that had been presented to voters. The concern of project costs increasing was not in evidence when the council voted to pause the transmission line, and has not been much in evidence since as the project remains stalled.
Those participating in our “Community Commons” dialogue on “citizen centered planning” have been asking what citizens can do to help our leaders make better and more predictable decisions about our public infrastructure. Part of this discussion has focused on the difference between leaders who are “public servants” or “statesmen”, and those who are merely politicians. Differences identified included:
focusing on the common good v. catering to special interests or the loudest voices,
being a good steward of our public resources v. following the political winds,
being transparent v. “trying to control the message”, and
staying true to a vision and core values v. changing with the polls.
The council’s actions with regard to the transmission line have been a frequent reference point during these discussions. The decision to pause the transmission line (which was first approved in 2013) was made as public meetings were being held on pole placement and design, in response to public opposition engendered by those meetings, and without input from the citizen led Water & Light Advisory board. Shortly thereafter, the 4th Ward council person suggested that maybe conservation could solve the the transmission issues (Note: as explained here, it won’t). In May 2016 the newly elected mayor supported the ongoing delay and suggested that a new “Option E”, might be possible based on his conversations with another electric provider. Neither has updated the public on the feasibility of these alternatives, nor provided a timeline for their evaluation, nor provided estimates of the costs associated with ongoing delay. A letter sent by the Water & Light advisory board to the City Council on September 18, 2016 providing an analysis of the public concerns and reaffirming the advisory board’s support for Option A, appears to have been largely ignored.
The recently released 2016 “Citizen Handbook” – which is offered as the City’s “performance report” to its citizens, stated (p. 8) “Wherever you live, water, sewer, electric and stormwater systems should be safe and reliable.” What are we doing to ensure that that goal is met? Who is responsible for the costs and risks of delay when a project is “paused”? What information should be gathered before an “alternative” is put on the table for consideration? What information should be shared with the public and when? What circumstances justify reopening decisions already made?
On p. 31, of the Citizen Handbook this report is given with respect to our electric service:
“The tricky part of getting the electricity exactly when and where it is needed is very complicated. Over the years, Columbia electric ratepayers have invested in the infrastructure to build a system that has a reliability rating of 99.9876 percent. Although the electric load growth has dropped from a 2 percent increase to a 1.25 percent growth rate, it was identified in 2007 that an additional substation and transmission lines were needed in southern Columbia. After many public meetings, gathering feedback from residents in the area and the meetings with the City Council, a route for the new transmission lines was decided at a public hearing in 2013. Voters approved the funding for the project through using bond funds in 2015. In 2016, the City Council decided to reconsider the route. At the time this article was published, a solution to electric reliability and overloading issue had not been decided by the City Council.”
How do we want our key infrastructure decisions to be made? What would best serve the common good? What can we do to ensure good stewardship of our public resources?
Join us tomorrow at the Community Commons and share your ideas.
Tuesday, Nov. 15, 7-9 pm
Enter the Tribune Training Room on Walnut Street, between 5th and Providence.
Sponsored by The Columbia Daily Tribune in partnership with the Kettering Foundation.
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