Hawthorne Avenue hydro wires – be gone!

By John Dance

Enfin! City Council has approved burying the hydro wires and removing the poles when Hawthorne Avenue is reconstructed between Colonel By Drive and Main Street over the next three years.

The “undergrounding” decision has been a long time coming. The Old Ottawa East Community Association (OOECA) sought the removal of the wires on the southern portion of Main Street when it was rebuilt five years ago but to no avail.

With the pending reconstruction of Hawthorne, community members again pushed for undergrounding. Councillor Shawn Menard [Capital Ward], working with City staff, council colleagues and OOECA, successfully argued that the benefits of undergrounding wires on Hawthorne, a traditional main street zoned for considerable intensification, far outweigh the incremental costs incurred through undergrounding.

“This project will pay for itself because of development,” Menard told fellow members of the City’s Transportation Committee. The decision, coupled with the earlier technical realization that hydro poles on the northern part of Main Street and on Greenfield Avenue must be buried to provide enough width for sidewalks and cycling lanes, means that all of the hydro wires on the major routes of the northern sector of Old Ottawa East will be buried during the upcoming $33 million reconstruction project.

Several suburban councillors strongly opposed Menard’s proposal that the City should pay the incremental cost of undergrounding. Councillor Jenna Sudds [Kanata North], supported by Councillor Allan Hubley [Kanata South], argued that because residents in her community had to pay for undergrounding through a special area levy this should also be the case for Old Ottawa East residents, otherwise it wouldn’t be “fair.”

Sudds noted that current City policy requires “user pay” when there are incremental costs for undergrounding. However, before this policy came into effect, the Old Ottawa East secondary plan said “priority will be given to burial of overhead wires along this traditional mainstreet [Hawthorne].”

Also, the draft of the new official plan notes, “To facilitate regeneration, and to improve streetscapes opportunities to bury overhead wiring … will be priorized along mainstreet and minor corridors.”

A number of councillors, including Catherine McKenney [Somerset], Diane Deans [Gloucester-Southgate], Theresa Kavanagh [Bay], Jeff Leiper [Kitchissippi] and Mathieu Fleury [Rideau-Vanier] supported Menard’s position, noting “we should do it across the city”(Kavanagh), “it would be a real lost opportunity to delay it” (Deans), and “we’re talking about a public realm that supports intensification” (Leiper).

As a result of the decision, seven hydro poles and their wires will be buried at an incremental cost of $1.1 to $1.7 million. The source of funds within the City budget remains to be determined. Over the last few years since the southern part of Main Street was reconstructed, several other traditional mainstreets have been reconstructed with accompanying burying of overhead wires.

“Technical reasons” have made undergrounding necessary, staff have said.

“Had we not removed the poles we would not have the streetscape we have now,” Councillor McKenney said of the rebuilt and wireless Elgin Street. The undergrounding will provide resiliency in the face of high winds and severe weather events, Tom Scott, OOECA’s Director of Transportation, told members of the City’s Transportation Committee.

He also stressed that the removal of the hydro poles would make snow removal easier and walking and cycling safer and noted undergrounding will “allow the planting of full-sized trees without the need to butcher them when they then started to actually grow to any height.”

The decision to underground the wires on Hawthorne represents the culmination of former OOECA Planning Committee Chair Paul Goodkey’s campaign to have wires buried on OOE’s mainstreets.

He, however, passed on the credit to Councillor Menard who successfully led the charge to get approval for undergrounding for not just Hawthorne, but also the northern part of Main Street and Greenfield Avenue.

When the City’s Transportation Committee recommendation to bury the wires was considered by City Council, only one Councillor – Jan Harder [Barrhaven] – spoke against it.

The Mainstreeter emailed her to seek the reasons for her opposition but she did not respond.

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