Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald

By Terri Harber


Baker City Councilors on Tuesday moved forward with their plan to relocate utility lines so they run under the section of Resort Street slated to be rebuilt in the next year or two.

They unanimously approved a resolution that allows city staff to begin planning the burial of the utility lines along Resort Street from Campbell Street to Auburn Avenue.

The councilors voted to approve resolution 3686, which authorizes city staff to seek bids and draw up contracts for the utility lines being moved underground.

"I think this'll be a great asset, a benefit to our community," said Mayor Dennis Dorrah.

This would be part of the overall improvement project that would includes rebuilding the street and sidewalks. It also would add sidewalk amenities, such as benches and planters.

Llewellyn "Lew" Robbins owns a commercial property that faces the 2000 block of Main Street but backs onto Resort Street.

Robbins, who rents the space to TEC Copier Systems, was the only person to speak to the councilors during the public hearing.

"It seems to me the wrong time to put in an underground system," Robbins said, pointing out that current economic conditions aren't good. "I can't raise my rent. ... I think we need to put it off for a while."

Cost for all of the work is an estimated $3.3 million. A state grant will pay the bulk of the cost for rebuilding the street and sidewalks, estimated at $2.2 million.

Burying the utility lines has an estimated cost of $1.1 million.

Councilor Clair Button acknowledged that "a lot" of residents have been telling the city they are concerned about the city's portion of the cost and want to see the property owners comprising an LID "put up their fair share."

The city and the committee will "see if we can come up with a reasonable solution," he said.

Michelle Owen, public works director, told the councilors that property owners representing less than 13 percent of the street frontage along Resort Street have said they're against forming a Local Improvement District, LID, to help pay for relocation of the utility lines.

The LID wouldn't be formed if property owners representing 67 percent of the real estate along Resort Street are against it.

Tabor Clarke, representing the committee working to reduce the cost of the project, said he believes cost-cutting efforts will succeed.

Meetings with the engineering firm and utility companies so far have brought promises that should reduce the cost for the LID to property owners from $70 to $41 per foot of property frontage, he told the councilors.

He said these include pledges by some of the utility companies being more generous about their contributions to the work and an engineering change that would reduce the conduit size.

Property owners would pay off the LID in twice-annual payments for the next 20 years. The current interest rate is 1.6 percent.

The exact amount to be sought from the Resort Street property owners will be known once the work is complete, she said.

The city has set aside $150,000 from its street fund for burying the utility lines. How much more the city would have to chip in depends on negotiations with utilities and the amount raised by the LID, but the figure is likely to be less than the original estimate of about $180,000, City Manager Mike Kee said.

Kate Dimon, director of Historic Baker City Inc., continues to seek a grant source to offset the cost as well, Clarke said.

Clarke also said Central Park is crucial to the success of the overall improvements of Resort Street.

He asked to add another member to the Resort Street committee - Jason Yencopal, the county's Community Development Director.

Councilor Aletha Bonebrake said the committee's effort are a good "example of solving a problem with everyone sitting down together."

No nuisance declaration

Councilors also opted to not take any action against the owner of a home in the 1500 block of First Street where there was a great deal of tree and plant overgrowth.

City officials considered it potentially dangerous before the owner hired a contractor was hired to clean up the yards.

The location had been owned by Laura Hayse, who died in May. Her relatives all live elsewhere, including the current owner, one of her children.

Councilor Roger Coles, who during the Sept. 11 meeting pointed out that the city had its own property with an abundance of overgrown plants and trees, heard that volunteers have been working to remove the debris from the former Silvers residence on Clifford Street.

Button has organized a group of volunteers that have been working to clear the property. People interested in helping can contact Button by email at cfbutton@gmail.com or call Kee at 541-524-2420.

In other business, councilors:

andbull; Approved a bid by Planned and Engineered Construction Inc., of Helena, Mont., to do wastewater pipe renewal work for $135,000. The work the company would do, cured-in-place wastewater rehabilitation, shores up aging collection systems by lining old, weak pipes with polyester tubing. The bid is to line about 3,900 lineal feet of wastewater pipes on Clifford, Grove College and North 3rd streets. The city has been doing this lining work gradually for the past four years. Owen expects the rehabilitation project to go on for the next decade.

andbull; Allowed the operators of the Baker Elks Lodge, 1896 Second St., to retain the club's social gaming license. The licenses need to be renewed annually.

andbull; Executive sessions were held to discuss legal matters and evaluate the work performance of Kee. The public wasn't invited to these sessions.

andbull; Heard that the Scenic Vista water tank is expected to cost more than originally anticipated. Excavating to keep the new tank in place and the addition of a fence requested by state officials brings the price tag to about $190,000.