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Underground power lines could be coming to Tacoma's Brewery District

Crews work on a downed power line, which snapped after a garbage truck accidentally snagged the lines while driving on South Tacoma Way near the intersection with South Pine Street in Tacoma in August 2013. A new pilot project approved by the City Council calls for a 30-percent contribution from Tacoma Power for overhead-to-underground power line conversions for commercial and multifamily developments in Tacoma's Brewery District.
Crews work on a downed power line, which snapped after a garbage truck accidentally snagged the lines while driving on South Tacoma Way near the intersection with South Pine Street in Tacoma in August 2013. A new pilot project approved by the City Council calls for a 30-percent contribution from Tacoma Power for overhead-to-underground power line conversions for commercial and multifamily developments in Tacoma's Brewery District.

Underground power lines, that highly expensive yet desirable public utility improvement, could be coming to Tacoma's Brewery District.

The City Council this week voted to start a three-year pilot project that would help developers of commercial and multifamily developments in that area pay to convert overhead distribution lines and put them underground.

It calls for a 30-percent contribution from Tacoma Power for overhead-to-underground conversions for commercial and multifamily developments and will be limited to the Brewery District for now. The program has a $10 million cap in contributions, utility staff said.

Tacoma Power assistant manager Rachel Allen said work started on the initiative years ago as a tool for economic development.

The prospect could lure developers, many of whom have clamored for underground lines because they make an area more attractive and allow more density to be built into a project. The Holiday Inn in downtown Tacoma could have added 40 more rooms had it been able to use underground power lines around the project, City Councilman Ryan Mello said Tuesday.

Putting the equipment underground also is helpful for Tacoma Power. Underground lines require less maintenance and are more reliable because they're relatively safe from conflicts with weather and the public.

Tacoma Power staff said they've heard from developers who were specifically waiting for a policy like this to be adopted in Tacoma.

"This will facilitate smarter growth, better growth in the Brewery District," Mello said.

The project area will include the 6.4-acre Tacoma Town Center development, between South 21st and South 23rd streets and Jefferson Avenue and Tacoma Avenue South, utility staff said.

Allen admits it's new territory for Tacoma Power, but staff said at a council study session in March that the utility would consider opening the project up to other areas of Tacoma in the future if the public utility board and City Council were interested.

Candice Ruud: 253-597-8441, @candiceruud
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