LELAND — It’ll cost $5 million to bury overhead power lines on Village Road in Leland. As a big-ticket and lower-priority item, the town Leland hopes to offset the brunt of that cost through a federal grant it just learned it was eligible to apply for.
The ambitious project would aesthetically improve Leland’s town entrance off of Highway 74, an undertaking the town has taken on in recent years, notably including sign ordinance changes (remember the towering Hardee’s sign?) and the long-delayed Northgate Drive Realignment project, which is now nearing completion.
The Town sees improvements to its Gateway District (Village Road corridor) as a catalyst that will fuel continued infill development in the area.
Though included as a Capital Improvement project in the town’s current fiscal budget, the project to bury powerlines along 0.9 of a mile along Village Road remains unfunded. Approximately $4.5 million would come from the town’s general fund, according to the 2019-2020 budget, however, possible grants could relieve the town’s reliance on its savings if it’s able to lock down outside funding.
Outside the prospect of obtaining a recently-identified Economic Development Administration grant, the town has no current plans to finance the project, according to the town’s spokesperson.
Power lines would be buried, connecting with approximately 8 miles of underground conduit extending from the town’s entrance off Highway 74 west just beyond the Leland Library.
“The project is one that the Town sees as being beneficial to, and in line with, the overall Village Road corridor vision,” according to Leland’s spokesperson.
Leland first considered the project in 2014, but after initial discussions, it dropped the idea after realizing the significant costs. After the mixed-use Harrington Village project began, Leland Town Council requested staff to take another look at burying power lines in the Gateway District in 2017. In February 2017, Council approved paying Duke Energy $90,000 to conduct an engineering study. That study produced a cost-estimate that quoted work to cost $1.49 million to $1.89 million should Duke Energy complete the project itself. However, Duke Energy’s estimate didn’t include the full scope of work required, leading the town to pay the consulting firm MBP Carolinas, Inc. $13,500 to produce its own estimate in December 2018.
The MBP estimate came in much higher, at $5,004,000. Burying power lines isn’t easy — it includes excavating existing lines, demolishing and replacing sidewalks, and controlling traffic at one of the town’s busiest thoroughfares during the construction period. Though underground power lines are generally considered a safety enhancement (no downed lines during storms), they can still be vulnerable to flooding. Projects to bury utility lines are often discussed by small and midsized towns (including Carolina and Kure Beach); they are also often put on the backburner while higher-priority infrastructure projects are tackled.
Possible grant funding?
Leland categorizes the Village Road underground utilities task as an Economic and Community Development project. After learning MBP’s estimate, Leland staff researched potential grants to help offset high project costs. In February, Council opted to solicit design proposals, research grants, and explore public or private funding mechanisms that may help cover the project. As of June, the town was waiting to receive its requested design proposal from its on-call engineer, Davenport Engineering.
This week, Leland is coordinating with representatives of the Economic Development Administration (EDA) regarding a Disaster Supplemental Notice of Funding Opportunity. This program is a first-come-first-serve offering, according to Leland Finance Director Carly Hagg.
It is designed to help communities “devise and implement long-term economic recovery strategies” through projects to address economic issues where major disasters have occurred. The EDA funds up to 80% of eligible projects with this program.
Hagg told Council at its agenda review meeting Monday that Leland staff had been in touch with EDA and was waiting to learn whether it was eligible to apply for the project. Leland spokesperson Hilary Snow confirmed Tuesday that the town learned it was indeed eligible and intends to apply for the grant — pending Council approval — for the project’s engineering and design. Snow said the town often looks to identify grant opportunities “as a general rule of good stewardship.”
Leland Town Council may choose to approve staff’s request to apply for the grant via its consent agenda at Thursday’s regular meeting.
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