Dear Blowing Rock Chamber Member,
In the fall of 2021, the Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce formed a Task Force to study the feasibility of burying Main Street utilities in conjunction with the water and sewer line replacement project which will take place in 2023 and 2024 on Main Street. We believed then, and we believe now, that if we do not bury our utilities while Main Street is already being prepared for the water/sewer project, it will be extremely unlikely that we will ever bury our unsightly overhead wires, as the cost of burying the utilities as a stand-alone project will be significantly higher than if we piggyback on the water/sewer project.
The Task Force was composed of Chamber representatives, the Mayor, Town Manager, Town Engineer, private sector engineers, and engineers and representatives from Blue Ridge Energy, AT&T, Ridgelink, and Skybest. After more than a year of study, detailed plans and drawings were produced and bids were solicited by the Town, both for the water/sewer project and for burying the utilities. Final bids for these projects are expected soon.
Unfortunately, recent, misleading, and inaccurate information has been spread about this effort to bury our utilities on Main Street. We are writing this letter to ask that you carefully consider the facts about this effort as they emerge over the coming weeks, as well as your sources of information. Blowing Rock has an extremely capable and fiscally conservative Town Manager, with over 15 years' experience as a CPA, and a well- functioning and thoughtful Town Council. Consequently, we believe that when final bids are known, our Town will do what is in the best interest of Blowing Rock long term and will not in any way jeopardize the ability of Blowing Rock to properly maintain its infrastructure in the coming years. In short, we believe that you should place your confidence in our Town Government and in those who have worked on this project for over a year, rather than on others who may be more vocal, but are certainly less informed.
We are hopeful that final bids will come in at a level which will permit us to remove an unsightly blight from our beautiful Main Street.
We thank you for your consideration!
Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce
Underground Utilities Fact Sheet
- The Town of Blowing Rock is currently planning to replace the water and sewer lines along Main Street. Blowing Rock’s water and sewer infrastructure downtown is aging and in great need of replacement and cannot be delayed further. The funding for this work is already secured through a $4.8M grant from NC General Assembly from the 2021 American Rescue Plan (ARP) that provides funds, through the State Fiscal Recovery Fund. This necessary improvement will not increase taxes or utility fees for Blowing Rock residents or businesses.
- The Town of Blowing Rock is currently considering additional work to bury electrical and communication lines along Main Street. This practical and aesthetic improvement has been part of the Town’s comprehensive plan since 2014 and on the Council’s priority list since 2021. Furthermore, the Town has been considering this for over 50 years since 1969. There has never been a better opportunity to do this while Main Street will be trenched for the new water and sewer over the next 18 months. There is no grant or outside funding available for the utility work.
- Burying the electrical and communication lines means laying groundwork for future telecom needs. It would equip Blowing Rock with the infrastructure needed to respond to future changes in the way those services are delivered to residents and businesses. Additionally, improved aesthetics can potentially benefit every property owner in Blowing Rock, either through increased values for commercial and residential properties or increased economic activity. Coordinating the electrical and communications improvements with the water and sewer work would reduce overall impacts of construction and save significant money through shared construction costs. Burying the utility wires in conjunction with the water and sewer line replacement will not only save significant money but will also ensure that there is only one disruption to residents, businesses, and visitors.
- Actual work is projected to begin early summer. Exact dates will be announced when the contractor is secured. Expect a special public meeting this spring where details will be announced.
- While the exact procedure for all work cannot be determined until the selected contractor(s) defines it, residents and business owners can be assured that the Town will work to minimize disturbances to travel and business. Main Street and its sidewalks will be open throughout the entirety of the project with temporary lane closures, traffic pattern changes, and road flaggers used when necessary. Parking will remain in place except in the direct work zone. Efforts will be made to avoid the Central Business District during the peak season, on busy holidays and weekends.
- The Blowing Rock Chamber of Commerce created an Underground Utility Task Force to research possibilities for potential electrical and communications utility work and to get all the electrical and telecom providers to detail plans and costs for the work. The Chamber presented a plan and a real cost estimate for Council’s consideration in February 2021. The Town Council authorized funds to produce the detailed engineering drawings for bidding purposes. Town Council members are all fully aware and informed on the plan, and welcome questions or support for the project.
Why we should bury our utilities on Main Street
and why we should do it now
Let’s start with the benefits of safety and health. Frankly, here in Blowing Rock, we do not think these benefits, though real, should weigh too heavily in this decision. True, we do have high winds and ice storms, but we are not in the same league as coastal and mid-western areas for severe storm damage. However, according to the SBA and FEMA, disaster preparedness is a much-overlooked risk for businesses today. According to climate change scientists, there are fewer severe storm events, but their intensities are increasing dramatically. Sure, a Main Street without poles would be safer for vehicles and pedestrians, but I doubt that we have had someone wandering out of a bar and walking into a pole since, perhaps, uncle Joe Clark, who when mayor, cited himself for drunk and disorderly conduct! So, bottom line, though Main Street would be safer with buried utilities, this alone is not a big reason to proceed with this undertaking.
We believe the second, and more important benefit, is economic development. Revitalization experts across the country agree that investments in visual improvements of retail and commercial areas is one of the best ways to attract new businesses and new residents and to stimulate economic growth. By focusing on the cleanliness, orderliness and beauty of these areas, communities can increase property values and towns can increase their tax bases. As pointed out by every consultant hired by the town over the last decade or so, our overhead wires are a visual blight, mask the beauty of our Main Street, and detract from the character of our town. All these consultants recommended that we bury our utilities. But, to better answer this question of "why", we ask you to consider these questions: why do we pick up trash on Main Street? Why do we plant flowers in Town? Why do we have hanging baskets on Main and Sunset? Why did the Town build the rock garden at Sunset and 321? Indeed, why do we have parks in town? Why do we maintain landscaping on 321? Why do any of this? It all costs money.
We do it because visually, aesthetically, all of this makes Blowing Rock a more beautiful, attractive, and alluring place to live, do business and visit, which drives demand for property and increases property values which, in turn, increases the Town's tax base. In many ways our Main Street is Blowing Rock, and Blowing Rock's overriding feature is beauty. You and we, by choosing to live here, have been entrusted with enhancing and maintaining that beauty for future generations.
In preparing this document, I remembered an acquaintance who had a very noticeable and ugly wart on his face. I liked the guy, but every time I looked at him my eyes went straight to that wart. I could not imagine why he did not have it removed. Folks, it is time to remove the wart from the face of our Main Street! And if you think people don't
notice our wart, think again! Lonnie Webster, who provides photos of Main Street to advertisers, magazines, and other periodicals, told me that, more times than not, he is asked to Photoshop out the powerlines. What does that tell us?
So, that's the "why". Let's turn to "why now". As you know, in the summer of 2023, Main Street will be torn up to replace aging water and sewer mains - a project that could take up to two years. While Main Street is torn up and trenched, it would be foolhardy not to seize this this onetime opportunity and bury our utilities. The cost for this utility project is estimated to be significantly less than if we could not piggyback on the water and sewer project! I hear some say that the Town has other priorities that are more pressing. To those people we say this: the opportunity to deal with those other priorities will remain, whereas the opportunity to bury our utilities in a cost-effective manner will disappear, for decades if not forever, if we do not piggyback on the water and sewer project. The increased cost and further residential and business disruption will make it highly unlikely that any future Town Council will undertake this project. So, if you take the position that we should not to do this now, be aware that you are not kicking the can down the road, you are deciding, once and for all, for future Town Councils, whatever their priorities may be, not to bury utilities on Main Street. The cost and disruption would simply be too great. Bottom line: do it now, or it won't be done!
Finally, let's turn to the issue of equitable cost allocation. Some say that the benefits of burying our utilities will accrue disproportionately to Main Street property owners, and, therefore, they should bear a disproportionate amount of the cost. After reflecting on this, respectfully, we do not agree with this argument. We believe that all property owners in Blowing Rock benefit more or less equally from this project. We recognize that the disproportionate benefit argument may be correct and may apply in towns and cities much larger than Blowing Rock where there are multiple business and retail centers. But Blowing Rock is small and has only one retail and commercial street. Let me explain by using Metro Atlanta as an example. One could hardly argue that the cost of burying utilities in Sandy Springs in North Atlanta should be borne by residents in South Atlanta (which is twenty to thirty miles away) ---residents who rarely ever visit Sandy Springs or benefit in any way from the Main Street in Sandy Springs. The same would be true if we buried utilities in Laurel Park. The benefit there would accrue almost solely to Laurel Park residents, and they should pay the cost. Main Street in Blowing Rock is different. We are very small geographically and population-wise. Every single property owner in Blowing Rock benefits from our Main Street. Our sole economic engine is Main Street, and that engine powers both our second home economy and tourism. So, to say that residential property owners will not benefit proportionately from burying our utilities is, in our opinion, simply wrong. All property values in Blowing Rock, commercial, retail and residential are tied directly to what Blowing Rock looks like and how it is perceived as a destination for residents, businesses and visitors alike. And to those who still say that businesses should have more skin in this game, we remind them of the adverse impact that a torn up Main Street will have on these businesses. What will be an inconvenience to residents will have a very real economic cost to our businesses ---that is very real skin in the game!
So, the bottom-line questions are: does burying our utilities enhance our downtown? We believe the answer is "yes"! Does an enhanced downtown benefit all our property owners more or less proportionately? Again, we believe the answer to be "yes"!