City will help pay to move utility boxes: Cost could reach $500k to move PSE boxes

Though the color has changed on the two utility boxes outside The Mercer in Town Center, there is no indication the “eye sores” will be moved off the sidewalk any time soon.

Just outside of Countrywide Home Loans on the corner of 76th Avenue S.E. and 27th Street is a pair of recently painted, cream-colored Puget Sound Energy (PSE) utility switch boxes on the sidewalk.

Both the owner of The Mercer development, James Cassan, and city officials say they want the boxes underground. But neither want to foot the bill. PSE officials estimated the cost of moving the boxes would be between $400,000 and $500,000. If the parts of the boxes were re-usable and salvageable, that would reduce the cost by about $100,000.

Roger Thompson, a spokesperson for PSE, said the energy company has not received a formal request from Cassan to move the boxes. PSE would move the boxes underground but the property owner is responsible for the tab.

Last June, Cassan and City Councilmembers publicly called the boxes “eye sores” and agreed to a public-private partnership that would split the cost of burying them and moving a city street light cabinet.

In addition to the PSE utility boxes, there was an adjacent city-owned box on the corner that housed the cables and switches that controlled the power to half of the Town Center’s street lights. That box was moved last year. Dollar Development picked up the $100,000-plus cost for the change and gave the city an easement to house the equipment in The Mercer without a monthly fee.

Under the conditions of the deal, the Council set aside $150,000 of the city’s beautification fund to cover the cost of moving the city’s cabinet, but only after Dollar Development moves the PSE boxes. At the time of the deal, there was approximately $650,000 in the beautification fund.

According to Joy Bueling, the city’s communications coordinator, the street light box moved inside the Mercer in late 2006, not long after City Council approved the agreement. The city will not pay Dollar Development until the two remaining utility boxes are put underground at Cassan’s expense, Bueling said. If the PSE boxes don’t get moved, Dollar Development will not receive the city’s money.

PSE does not have to relocate the boxes because they are on private property with a permanent easement.

It is unclear where the utility boxes were located before the re-development.

This year, Council approved amendments to the city’s development code which will prohibit future developments from constructing and leaving utility cabinets on sidewalks or in the right of way.

Before they were painted white, the boxes were the standard green. Thompson said PSE did not know who painted the utility cabinets this past month but did check them recently. He also said it was common for property owners to paint PSE meters or cabinets, like in this case. PSE policy asks property owners to use quality paint and not cover any of their markings or identifiers when changing the color of PSE property.

“We thought it looked quite nice. It has a good paint job and they used quality paint,” Thompson said. “Everything seems to be ship-shape.”

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