The North Wilkesboro commissioners expressed concern about a Duke Energy request for permanent easements on town property during their July 23 meeting.
The also said they want more information about the requests, which would facilitate Duke Energy multi-year plans to increase capacity and reliability of the town’s electrical infrastructure.
Town Manager Wilson Hooper said that when the work planned by Duke Energy is completed in a couple of years, “we’ll have electricity infrastructure here that’s safer and more reliable and has higher capacity. So, that’ll be a good thing for us. It’s good for (business) recruitment, for example.”
However, Hooper noted earlier that the land with the easements could never be developed.
Duke plans to install higher capacity hardware along several rights-of-way in the town and on a town-owned, 0.59-acre public parking lot bordered by D Street on the north, an alley on the south and buildings along 10th Street and Ninth Streets in the west and east respectively.
The board is especially concerned about granting Duke Energy an easement on the portion of this parking lot near Wilkes Hardware Co. on 10th Street and Clark & Sons Electric Co. on D Street.
Duke plans to install two new power poles in the parking lot after removing three stub poles along the alley behind Vannoy Colvard Triplett and Vannoy law firm, Kemp Salon and United Way of Wilkes County Inc. on C Street.
The easements would “essentially render that plot undevelopable,” said Hooper. “It would be a parking lot for another hundred years.”
Commissioner Angela Day said the easements would prevent the development, for example, of condominiums with underground parking. “It could be an option someday, and we’ve just killed that. I’d hate to lock up that much land in our central business district. Let’s not give it away quickly.”
Hooper said Duke was asked to submit an alternate plan using higher power poles further away from the buildings instead of placing new poles in the parking lot. “It would still encroach on our property a little bit, but it would be much more manageable.”
The town’s 1987 franchise agreement with Duke Energy is effective for 60 years and expires on March 3, 2047.
Duke plans to install a new power pole near the western steps of the Yadkin Valley Marketplace and two new transformer pads, one in the parking lot between the town’s police station and Talia Espresso and one in a parking space currently south of the Wilkes Journal-Patriot building.
The transformers are about the size of a refrigerator laid on its side and would eliminate two parking spaces along Marketplace Way near the Yadkin Valley Marketplace, said Hooper.
Hooper said Duke would install new, stronger poles and consolidate some existing power lines “so there won’t be that hodgepodge of lines coming in and out.” This would be done to eliminate potential fire and safety issues with power infrastructure currently on the south side of buildings along the Joel Bentley and Marketplace alleyways.
Commissioner Angela Day, owner of Ivy Ridge Traditions on Main Street, said power lines behind her building and others nearby are so close they could be touched. “It’s frightening, and it’s a real issue,” she said.
Hooper said it would be cost prohibitive for the town to have power infrastructure put under ground instead of above ground. Such a project would cost “in the millions” of dollars, he said. Day replied, “As much as I’d like for those power lines to be gone,” the town has higher fiscal priorities.
Commissioner Michael Parsons asked Hooper what would happen if the town didn’t grant the easements. Hooper said Duke would either challenge the denial or simply stay within the current rights-of-way.
Parsons said he wanted more information from Duke on how granting the easements would benefit the town. “What are we getting by allowing them to do this? I would really like to see what they plan to do before we grant those easements.”
If the town doesn’t grant the easements, “it doesn’t look like it could get any worse down those alleys,” said Parsons. “It’s already a horrendous jumble of stuff.”
Commissioner Andrew Palmer said, “I’m with Michael. I would like to hear more about what they’re doing and how we’ll benefit from it.”
Hooper said he would invite Jimmy Flythe, director of government and community relations for Duke Energy’s west region of North Carolina, to speak during the board’s next regular meeting on Aug. 4.
Mayor Robert Johnson said it would be good to hear from Flythe, but added, “Next to the railroad, Duke Energy can do whatever they want to do. I don’t think his opinion will change. They’ll take it by eminent domain if they have to. But let’s not get too antsy yet.”