The next – and, hopefully, final – legal battle between the City of Wetumpka and Alabama Power, AT&T and Spectrum over the relocation of poles that carry power, cable and telephone service to customers in the city’s historic downtown area will take place in the courtroom of Judge Bill Lewis beginning Feb. 18 – unless someone steps in beforehand to cool all heads.
The facts in the case are complicated, to say the least, and, at most, somewhat convoluted.
The vitality that the relocation would add to Wetumpka’s downtown appearance and overall atmosphere is unquestioned. There are many individuals in town, notably those involved with Main Street Wetumpka, who have invested much time, money and energy in working to make the city’s downtown a place where citizens and businesses want to be.
Not to mention that some of the poles in question appear to be leaning and relatively unsafe.
Wetumpka’s chief foe in this battle – Alabama Power Co. – is a mighty force to be reckoned with. It enters its battles with plentiful and talented attorneys on retainer and a deep pocketbook should further resources be required. The city, on the other hand, operates on a tight budget and, should City Attorney Regina Edwards need help from an attorney with certain expertise, it must pay for it.
Alabama Power has contended that its relocation of its lines – for which cost estimates range widely – from $350,000 to $4 million – would result in rate increases for customers statewide. But a check with a utilities accountant by the city revealed that any effect on Alabama Power’s rates should be miniscule. The company’s true interest is likely in protecting against precedent. But, actually, precedence already exists from the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority v. Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Co., to name just one case.
Yet Alabama Power says Alabama’s Public Service Commission has the final say.
It would be nice if it hadn’t come to this. It would be nice if the city could sit down with the utilities and work things out in a manner that made all happy, saved a few billable attorneys’ hours and allowed the city to get on with the much-needed downtown redevelopment and Alabama Power to get on with selling the electricity it’s going to take to keep customers warm in what has, so far, to been a harsh winter.
Also, the power company should keep in mind that the better downtown looks, the more businesses move in to now-vacant buildings and become paying Alabama Power customers.
Our fear is, if a judge rules, then whatever ruling will be appealed by the losing party, causing further delay.
So, has the window for niceties closed? Perhaps not, but it is sliding shut.
We urge the utilities and the city to sit down one more time and see if all can’t be satisfied, not hurt the city or the utilities either financially or with negative press.
Maybe some of the more powerful voices in the city will join us in that plea, even lead the charge.
It can’t hurt to try.