The powerlines crisscrossing Ketchum are hard to miss, especially when they’re blocking the mountain views that the city is known for.
For years, above-ground Idaho Power lines and poles have been a thorn in the side of real estate developers in Ketchum’s community core. Older buildings hug the poles—in close proximity to high-voltage lines—within a matter of feet at several points in the alley between Main Street and Washington Avenue.
Today, developers must comply with city code requirements that their buildings remain at least 13 feet back from the power lines. New buildings, like the Kneebone project on Fifth Street and the project at 231 Sun Valley Road, have respected this setback but have sacrificed valuable square-footage in buildings that will likely stand for decades longer than the powerlines surrounding them.
However, change is to come. At a regular meeting Monday, the Ketchum City Council voted to approve funding to underground power lines in the alley between Seventh Street and Eighth Street and Warm Springs Road and Washington Avenue.
While the city government has an ear-
marked fund for undergrounding power
lines, which derives funding from a franchise fee paid by all Idaho Power customers in Ketchum, efforts to take down the poles have hit stumbling blocks several times in the past three years. In the past, the city has had few requests to use the money for undergrounding projects, and the council has diverted those funds to other needs.
Ketchum property owner Andy Castellano told the council on Monday that he hopes to break through that impasse and create a “domino effect” that will take down power lines throughout downtown. He and his neighbors have pledged to help pay for 55 percent of the $120,000 cost, and the city and the Ketchum Urban Renewal Agency will pay for the rest.
The KURA board of commissioners met Monday afternoon prior to the council meeting. Castellano requested $60,000 from the KURA, but the board voted to approve spending $24,000 to help the project.
Castellano and his wife recently purchased property at 760 Washington Ave. and are planning to build a mixed-use project that will include commercial, residential and affordable housing. The pair will occupy the upper-floor residential unit, while his wife, Kim, will use the ground floor for her business.
With the power line out of the way and safely underground, Castellano will have leeway to build a much larger building. As it stands with the current placement of the powerline, he would be working with a substantially smaller space to respect the current building code.
Castellano said the stakes are high for his $2 million to $2.5 million project.
“We want to put this money in because Ketchum is our home and we love it here,” he said.
Castellano has been working with his neighbors, Idaho Power,
CenturyLink and Cox Com-munications to design the under-grounding project, which has taken months to complete.
“We’ve done all that,” he said. “If we do all that and we get shot down, nobody else is going to try.”
Only recently has the city had numerous requests for money designated for utility-line undergrounding, and the council has been debating how to disperse the funds since early July.
While they were deliberating, Mayor Neil Bradshaw asked council members if they felt Castellano’s project was a priority, given the competing needs to underground the powerline between Fifth and Sixth streets next to the new City Hall building, and to underground the powerline in the alley between Washington Avenue and First Avenue, near Fourth Street. One power pole near the Board Bin impedes the path of completing the western side of the Fourth Street Heritage Corridor project, which Bradshaw has made a priority in his first term as mayor.
The council voted to authorize funding up to $30,000, 25 percent of the total project cost of $120,000. The bid for the undergrounding was $105,000 from Idaho Power for its lines and $15,000 from Cox and CenturyLink for their lines. The council voted 3-0 to approve the funding, with Councilman Jim Slanetz, recusing himself. Slanetz owns the Board Bin property at 180 Fourth St. and has filed a request with Idaho Power to underground powerlines near his property.
“I’m a fan of supporting this,” Council President Michael David said on the project’s bid approval. “We should reward these citizens. This is what these funds were meant to be used for.”