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A Ruby Hill Agreement?

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An agreement was reached in the Ruby Hill tower controversy Wednesday evening – an agreement to keep on talking. It’s not exactly the stunning pact one would expect from two closed-door meetings but, hey, it’s a beginning. Beginning of what, nobody is saying.

Since all players are bound by a non-disclosure contract, mediator Steve Charbonneau is careful not to reveal the specifics of the talks. But he does say that it would be wrong to characterize the most recent accord as a fully-cooked final agreement. “I would characterize it as a proposal,” he demures.

But sources within the group – which included more than two dozen reps from Xcel Energy, City Council, the Mayor’s Office, and myriad southwest Denver neighborhood groups – say they hope to go before the City Council on Monday to request that CB306, a proposed ordinance to exempt the 111-foot towers from the Ruby Hill Park view plane, be postponed yet again while all the power players carry on negotiations toward an concrete accord.

The mere fact that the various interests hope to continue talks is a sign of progress. Apparently, a dozen or so proposals were on the table during the first meeting on July 19 and have since been narrowed down to a couple. Undergrounding the lines has always seemed the most plausible – the problem, as always, is moola. If Xcel complies with requests to bury the power transmission lines rather than run them overhead, it would mean that someone has to come up with $4.4 million. The Colorado Public Utilities Commission says the dough can’t be coughed up by Xcel ratepayers. And the Mayor’s office and City Council have already pleaded poverty. That just leaves community groups to craft some kind of funding method, possibly with the guidance of group member Robert Robinson, an Economist with the Center for Applied Research.

At a July 9 public hearing, Robinson said his company has done surveys of transmission tower battles in other cities and does “not see, virtually anywhere, where a utility prevails if a community is eager and willing to participate in a financing mechanism of some sort.” This can come in the form of a franchising agreement, an energy surcharge within a select area of the city, a special improvement district, or other forms of taxation or revenue bonding, Robinson testified.

If this is the direction the negotiations have headed – and this is pure speculation – the next step would be for neighborhood groups to begin the process of getting the proposal on the ballot. Which would lead to another dilemma for the opposition groups: Will their fellow working-class community members be willing to put their money where their view is? Let’s just agree that this proposal could get interesting. –Jared Jacang Maher

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