One More Time for Ruby Hill

As anticipated, the Denver City Council chose to once again postpone a vote on an ordinance that would allow Xcel Energy to erect new 111-foot transmission towers in Ruby Hill Park. The decision last night gives neighborhood group leaders until September 10 to come up with a way to pay for burying the power lines, which Xcel says will cost $4.4 million more than leaving them above ground. District 7 Councilman Chris Nevitt, who is engaged in the negotiations, thanked the bill’s sponsor, Councilman Charlie Brown, for supporting the delay.

“We have a lot of work to do over the next six weeks,” Nevitt admitted.

Councilwoman Jeanne Faatz expressed her concern over the affect the holdup will have on the local power grid and pressed Nevitt for assurance that the talks would produce real results.

“I think we will have something to present that will fix both problems,” promised Nevitt.

The utility maintains that updating lines are vital to meeting a growing power demand in the area. Meanwhile, community leaders say that the massive, rust-colored poles violate a municipal law meant to protect the mountain views of residents who live near the elevated park. For the past two weeks, the various interests have been engaged in a closed-door mediation sessions where roughly a dozen proposals were hashed out and reduced to a general plan to create a “funding mechanism” for the undergrounding. This could come in the form of an energy surcharge for the area or a special taxing district. Leaders of the Ruby Hill Neighborhood group have already filed paperwork with the clerk and recorder’s office to put a proposal on the ballot. But what that question will look like is where things get really complicated.

First, what portions of the city should be included in this funding scheme? Should it be residents who get their power from these transmission lines – which includes homes across nine Council districts – or should it be residents who are within sight of the offending towers? Next, what is the true cost of burying these power lines? Though Xcel has given the $5 million dollar figure, company representatives have vaguely suggested that the amount could be millions more – or less. How difficult is it to come up with reliable estimates for different scenarios? Isn’t that what major utilities do every day? And the final, and most important, question is whether voters would be willing to approve a tax – or rate – increase on a ballot already stacked with numerous tax hike proposals for infrastructure updates. This may be why the Mayor’s office has been reluctant – if not adverse – in its support of the Ruby Hill Park issue. –Jared Jacang Maher

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Sean Cronin