The Free Press, Mankato, MN

October 24, 2012

Power line dispute delays completion of Madison Ave, project

By Dan Linehan
Free Press Staff Writer

MANKATO — A delay in Xcel Energy’s burial of power lines along Madison Avenue has frustrated the city, which may be forced to delay the construction of a trail adjoining the road.

Xcel removed its poles from the street itself in time for the reconstruction project this summer.

“I’ll give them credit for that,” City Engineer Jeff Johnson said.

But, in a recent letter to Xcel, Johnson called the lack of progress in the trail area immediately south of the road “unacceptable.”

The city intends to bill Xcel for $2,000 a day for every day the contractor could have finished the trail project, starting on Aug. 24, when the contractor was first impeded, according to the letter.

Dave Pearson, manager of community and government relations for Xcel, said, “I will say we’ve been working cooperatively with the city to resolve this project, as we have with other communities when we bury lines.”

According to the city engineer, though, that is not true.

“It doesn’t appear they’ve been there in quite some time to do any work,” Johnson said. He also said Xcel hasn’t provided him with a construction schedule, though he has asked for one repeatedly.

Pearson mentioned there is “some disagreement” about who should pay for the project, but he declined to elaborate on whether that disagreement was causing the delays.

Instead, he emphasized that Xcel and the city are working to finish the project. The poles should be gone by the end of the year, he said.

The trail contractor may not charge the city extra for building the path in the spring, Johnson said, though that will depend in part on whether the price of raw materials increases.

That disagreement about payment likely refers to the city arguing that it shouldn’t have to pay for the burial at all.

The city has said Xcel would pay if the state’s Public Utilities Commission deems the burial in the public interest, which the city believes it is.

Earlier this year, the City Council rejected a payment method that would levy a charge on each of the city’s residential and business customers. The alternative was to bill Xcel for the burial or, failing that, pay for the burial with city funds (not assessments).

Its cost is estimated at $656,000, though Pearson said it may cost less because some sections of the moved power lines couldn’t have been moved above ground. In other words, if Xcel is forced by conditions on the ground to bury lines, it doesn’t charge a city for the extra cost associated with the burial.

Payment issues aside, Johnson, the city engineer, said he has assumed the contractor would finish the project before now.