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Despite Failed Proposal, the Majority of Blowing Rock Town Council Believe the Town Will Eventually Bury Power Lines

By Kris Testori

There was a lot of controversy before Tuesday’s vote on whether the city should bury the power lines in conjunction with the replacement of the water and sewer lines. The proposal was defeated with a 3-2 vote. High Country Press reached out to the town’s five council members for more information on why they voted as they did. All five council members were asked the same two questions. 

(The following is listed in the order each council member sits in council chambers)

The first question asked, “What were the primary reasons you voted yes/no?”

Councilman Albert Yount (voted no): “1:Too Costly. 2:Too little need. 3:Too few returns”

Councilman David Harwood (voted yes): “Placing utilities underground is not merely a beautification project, and it is not just for the tourists. That type of thinking lacks foresight. Continuing to improve downtown’s aesthetics and functionality keeps Blowing Rock vibrant and relevant both economically and aesthetically. It benefits everyone by supporting current and future property values throughout the town, keeping sales and occupancy taxes in our coffers, which offsets the taxes on residential property that homeowners would otherwise have to pay.”

Councilwoman Melissa Pickett (voted no): “I voted no for the underground utilities, because at this time the town has a list of infrastructure that needs to be addressed at an estimate of 40 million dollars. This estimate is for items such as water and sewer line replacement (outside of the Main Street project), adding remaining citizens to the sewer system, paving of roads, upgrading storm water detention, maintenance to the town water tank, upgrading the water and sewer plants, replacing the Mayview lift station, and repairs and upgrades to all of the parks in town. I also do not believe it would have been in the Town’s best fiscal interest to refinance property to use as collateral for loans for the underground utilities.”

Mayor Pro-Tem Doug Matheson (voted no): “As I stated last night, my reason is that we have too many more important things needed right now that the money could be spent on (EMS, parking, shuttle service for employees, just to name a few.”)

Councilman Pete Gherini (voted yes): “I echo what David Harwood said. I could not have said it any better.”

The second question asked was, “Do you think the town will ever bury the power lines?”

Councilman Albert Yount: “I am not clairvoyant.” 

Councilman David Harwood: “I absolutely think they will be placed underground at some point in the future. When and by what entity remains to be seen. To continue to be a successful municipality requires continual improvement and investment in infrastructure, in personnel, in services, in parks, in aesthetics and in strategic planning. We are a destination driven economy. We’ve been that for 150 years. An opportunity in plain sight was squandered last night.”

Councilwoman Melissa Pickett: “I believe it is in the future of Blowing Rock to have the utilities buried. It just needs to be when our infrastructure is at a more upgraded and stable condition and there is a more suitable financing option available.”

Mayor Pro-Tem Doug Matheson: “Yes, I feel down the road that the lines will be buried.” 

Councilman Pete Gherini :“I echo what David Harwood said. I could not have said it any better.” 

Mayor Charlie Sellers also answered whether he thought the power lines would be buried in the future. “I feel utilities will be buried on Main Street in Blowing Rock in the near future. Unfortunately, it appeared the timing was not good at this time.” In North Carolina, the mayor presides over town council meetings, but has the right to vote only when there are equal numbers of votes in the affirmative and in the negative.

Councilman Albert Yount, who voted no on the proposal, added the following additional comments. “I have a problem with Blowing Rock having to pay totally for a project like this when others use our expenditure to deliver their for-profit product. Remove all unused lines/trife up poles with excessive lines/eliminate lines running helter skelter across Main Street, and make one crossing of these lines all in one bundle/convince utility line owners to help Town defray some of the costs of underground bury.”

Councilman Pete Gherini, who voted yes on the proposal, added the following comment, “We will see where this all goes moving forward. Stay tuned!”