Line in Wait

Denver is spending millions to build a new park along the South Platte River that is intended to be the centerpiece of the Platte Valley renaissance. There's only one problem with this idyllic return to nature: A power line runs through it.

A massive, 120-foot-high Public Service power line, to be exact. The line, which moves electricity from PSC's Zuni plant west of downtown, is left over from the days when industrial development that nobody wanted in their neighborhood was shunted to the edge of the Platte. Now the city is trying to reclaim the river as a recreational area, but getting rid of the power line promises to be far more difficult than putting it up ever was.

"The power line is from when people thought there was no better place for that than the river," says Andrew Wallach, a special assistant to Mayor Wellington Webb who has been heading up Denver's effort to redevelop the Platte.

Last fall the city spent $16 million to acquire thirty acres along the south bank of the river, between 15th and 20th streets, for a new park. To be known as Commons Park, the site represents the heart of eighty acres of open space that follow the South Platte as it winds through downtown Denver.

The park is intended to be a quiet refuge from the bustle of downtown, but visions of a bucolic retreat from the concrete canyons may be marred by the towering power line overhead. That line runs along the river from Rockmont Park, past Elitch Gardens and right through the Commons Park site.

Wallach says the city has been told by Public Service that burying the line is next to impossible. "When the city did the Central Platte Valley plan, they concluded that burying it would be hopelessly expensive," he says. "Everybody is resigned to it. The park is being designed around the power line."

The overhead wires are part of the basic electrical grid that serves the metro area. "That transmission line is very important," says PSC spokeswoman Rebecca Bertolini. "It brings the power from the power plant to the customers."

Bertolini says it would cost "tens of millions" to put the line underground, and the price can't be justified. "It would be very, very expensive to bury that line," she says. "We couldn't expect our customers to foot the bill, and the city doesn't have that kind of money."

Because the only justification for burying the line is aesthetic, Bertolini says, PSC would place such a project far down on its priority list. She says burying the wires would also be "very involved," since huge amounts of electricity move along the line. According to Bertolini, the power line has been in place for forty years.

However unlikely moving the power line seems, its neighbors would love to see it go. Development could begin later this year on the 65 acres between Union Station and Commons Park owned by Trillium Corporation. That company, which lobbied the city to build Commons Park, is planning a $1 billion downtown neighborhood that will include apartments, townhomes, offices and retail stores.

"I'd like to see the line moved," says Larry Grace, executive vice president of Trillium. "It would be nice if it wasn't running along the edge of Commons Park. It's a visual detraction."

One part of the Public Service power grid in the valley does seem destined to migrate. An electrical substation that sits on a promontory overlooking the confluence of Cherry Creek and the South Platte may be moved to a site near 19th Street and the railroad tracks. Wallach says the city wants to move the substation away from the confluence--the site where Denver was established in 1858--and make that land part of Confluence Park. Trillium has offered Public Service a site for the substation, and negotiations are under way.

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Stuart Steers
Contact: Stuart Steers