Awarning shot was fired over the bow of both Maritime Electric and the City of Charlottetown. It was a wake-up call to ensure that advances in ridding city streets of unsightly overhead wiring and utility poles must advance, not regress.
The alarm came from P.E.I. businessman Ray Brow who wondered aloud if 2017 is the year that Water Street’s utility wires will be finally all run underground. The cause of his concern was the recent installation of a pole and wires strung across Water Street.
Major progress was made getting rid of most of the wires and poles along Water Street, one of the main access points into the downtown. Their removal greatly improved the image of the historic capital.
The advances came because of good planning and decision-making. Those seem absent today. They also came because infrastructure dollars were spent to beautify the downtown. Money is the major reason why so much ugly wiring still remains in full view today.
Anyone standing on a Prince Street corner, south of Euston, and looks upward, are amazed that power poles are still able to remain upright under the heavy load of bristling wires, cables, transformers and fixtures. Supporting guy wires are everywhere.
Many city streets are like Prince, cluttered with wiring. Residents might be largely oblivious to this urban blight but what do visitors and tourists think of our heritage city?
Just imagine what city streets would look like if this blight of was gone? Their removal would visually transform the city, allow for more downtown parking and of course, money-generating parking metres.
The new overhead wiring and pole were allowed because there is no bylaw regulating them. There certainly should be. The city can’t just stand idly by and allow unacceptable solutions to proceed.
It’s an issue which demands the immediate attention by the city, Maritime Electric, downtown businesses, homeowners and the Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission.
Any new wiring should be underground and the utility should have a business plan to bury additional wires each year. While the costs are greater, it would limit the impact of weather on poles and wires, and limit outages and costly repairs.
The new overhead wires go against decades of beautification work along waterfront streets. The city invested heavily in beautifying the downtown in other ways, such as boardwalks, street lanterns and landscaping. Yet, when a business wants to upgrade its electrical service, the cheapest, easiest and most unappealing method is used.
The utility says it is respectful of the heritage projects done in terms of urban beautification. But it still had no problem helping to ruin that heritage work. There must be a plan to enhance beautification efforts, not make things worse.
Mayor Clifford Lee has long been sympathetic to the beautification cause. He has a commitment from Maritime Electric to discuss a plan going forward in terms of supporting beautification investments in the waterfront area.
Such a plan is long overdue. A heritage city deserves better. The Birthplace of Confederation can certainly do better.