PUC ponders permit procedures

Brian Larsen

Just because a power pole is near a new building site, it doesn’t mean the city can run power from that pole to a new house or business.

“People think we will use the shortest route, but that’s not always possible,” said Grand Marais City Administrator/PUC Director Mike Roth. “If the pole isn’t on city property we don’t have a right of way to get to that power. We determine the shortest route then and try to go above and beyond to get power to the builder.”

Roth was answering questions posed by two Grand Marais Public Utilities Commission (PUC) board members Karl Hansen and Tim Kennedy, and local builder Anton Moody who were in attendance at the January 6 meeting. George Wilkes, the third member of the board, was away on PUC business.

Questions about how the city determines where to put in new electric lines to new buildings came up at last month’s meeting when both Roth and Grand Marais Electric Superintendent Mike Taylor couldn’t be in attendance. At that meeting Moody questioned why the city tunneled in an underground line about 2,000 feet to his property when there was a utility pole near the house he was building. Moody was assessed one-third of the cost to put the line in and was charged $4,600.

At that time and again at the January 6 meeting, Moody said he wasn’t “disappointed,” but he was asking for an explanation. Because Moody hasn’t been the only person this has happened to, Kennedy asked Roth if there were a way the city could make it clearer to builders so there wouldn’t be any confusion.

“We don’t need to come up with a manual,” Roth said. “We can provide a map with a route of the line and explain to them the estimated cost of installing that line. We can sign off on it and they can sign off of it and it should be clear to everyone. Right now it’s been frustrating to everybody and I think this is the way we can get over this.”

The board agreed with Roth and he will seek to make this part of the permitting process.

Road patching process in place

Next the board brought up a situation they ran into at their December meeting when a home owner questioned why they had to pay to have a sewer line and road repaired when the line broke across the street from their house.

Grand Marais homeowner Carol Backlund wrote, in part, “I have already spent a significant amount of money with just finding and replacing the lines on the property. Because I live on the east side of the street we will need to dig up the road and put in a new line further down from where it connects to the main so that it can drain efficiently. I am asking the PUC if the PUC could help me out with patching up the road.

“I am also suggesting that the PUC give some serious thought to setting up a budget for homeowners to help with the cost when you have to dig up the street. A monthly fee could be charged and then set aside just for situations like this. I know that people complain when rates go up but if they were informed that this is a fund set aside to help customers with costly expenses it could be a good thing. I would appreciate any help you could give me,” wrote Backlund.

Water Plant/Waste Water Supervisor Tom Nelson said homeowners have always been responsible for repairing sewer lines to the main, even if the main was located across the road. And the homeowner then is also responsible for fixing the road when the line was dug in and fixed.

Kennedy asked Roth if the city could set up a financing plan for someone who might not have the ability to pay repairs upfront.

“I would hate to see someone not be able to live in their house because they have a $5,000 bill they can’t pay,” Kennedy said.

“I have never seen this happen,” said Roth. But he added, “Plenty of cities do this. The cost goes on their tax bill. We could set this up but I don’t think we will get asked to do this very often.”

“We need to have something in place in case there is an emergency,” said Kennedy.

“If there was an emergency and someone couldn’t afford to pay we do have the ability to make necessary repairs right now and put it on their assessments,” Roth said.

“So we could do that right now?” Kennedy asked.

“Yes,” said Roth.

With that knowledge the board told Roth not to set up a plan, but to continue doing business as usual.

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