1. Historic District Signage
2. National Register Education & Protection
3. Sidewalk Installation & Maintenance Plan
4. Tree Commission Support
5. Utility Lines Undergrounding
6. Rubber sheeting
7. New Building Inspector & Building Department
8. National Landmark Status
9. Archeological Ordinance
10. Public Restriction Tract Index
11. Local Historic District Expansion
Newburyport was at the forefront of using historic preservation in urban redevelopment. But what everyone else misses as they o0h and awe at our lovely downtown is the absence of telephone poles. Though HUD was willing to pony up Federal dollars for our city; they weren’t willing to pay for the undergrounding of the lines. Mayor Byron Matthews sweet-talked his golfing buddy, the chairman of the board and president of Massachusetts Electric, into agreeing to add to the aesthetics by undergrounding the lines. And again, we were one of the first in the nation to add this as a component of reviving a community.
Since then, it has been standard practice for many a town to underground a portion of their commercial and residential districts to make them more desirable. As more people want to live there, the property values go up and the tax levies go up too. Just recently, the Green Construction company put in Oleo Woods over near Storey Avenue. As a matter of enhancing the value of the sale, they underground the lines making this entire real estate poleless.
Across the country, though utility companies have tried to talk communities out of it; the drive to underground is spreading. The Utility companies are against it because of two factors: One, the cost to convert to underground conduits is many times more expensive to do; and Two, once the lines are placed below ground, the utility companies have to pay property taxes on the lines. They’ve even gone so far as to campaign against undergrounding and to generate reports on the disadvantages. They have been so desperate they created their own ‘Tobacco Institute’ type organization dedicated to stopping the trend.
But across the country, especially in communities who make their money off the way they look, undergrounding has proven to be the number one way to increase quality of life which has made these places highly desirable, and consequently has generated higher property values. Major cities have undertaken burying their lines and yes, even Massachusetts communities are actually in the process now: Concord, North Andover and Westwood amongst others.
There are more than just aesthetics at stake. As you can see in the picture above, our trees have been abused as the lines have run through them. The companies are supposed to work with our tree warden to minimize damage but more often than not, trees have been inflicted with poor pruning inviting already weakened trees to be more diseased and across the town, it has become almost epidemic. The CPA money and other grants are pouring money into putting in our trees only to see them harmed by the forest of telephone poles.
Now that we have purchased the lights (but not the poles); there is a greater motivation for us to get rid of these 19th-century dead trees (Thank you Adolphus Greeley) and line our streets with our colonial street lights.
Though the utility companies will fuss and whine, the following advantages beyond aesthetics are readily apparent. One is reduced maintenance. Out of the way of our New England weather, there is a reduced need to repair them. Two, Burying lines eliminates fire hazards, accidents, and safety risks from power outages due to downed lines and thirdly, reduces the probability of a vehicle striking them. Fourthly, beauty benefits business. Instead of realtors having to use Photoshop to make that beautiful colonial house become attractive, they can bravely bring the customer right up to the building, and yes, allow them to look around and up!
In Newburyport, there has been a couple of task forces created by previous mayors to see what could be done to expand the amount of utility lines placed beneath the street. Of course, it has always come down to money. How does one pay for this?
According to Massachusetts state law, there are several options available.
In a separate post, I will go over these choices.