The lofty poles and power lines on El Colegio Road and Camino Corto will soon be another relic in Isla Vista’s history, now that the Isla Vista Recreation and Park District has unanimously approved a grant of easement with Southern California Edison.
At a special meeting last night, the IVRPD gave SCE the right to dig trenches and install electrical boxes for underground electrical lines on board-controlled land. Starting Nov. 1, SCE will take a year and a half to remove all the electric poles on the two streets.
“Power lines, phones lines and cable TV lines will all be underground,” Jane Brown, SCE regional manager of public affairs, said.
Brown said the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors chose the two streets nearly three years ago, but the project is only now starting because it took significant time to engineer plans. She said the project costs nothing to the county, as it saved enough credits with SCE.
“Every county and city has a credit for undergrounding that accumulates every year, because undergrounding is extremely expensive, and as the years pass the saved credits can be used,” Brown said. “It’s called Rule 20A Undergrounding Project.”
IVRPD originally delayed approval of the project because it wanted more information about the plan, timeline and impact on the environment.
IVRPD board member Diane Conn said SCE had to gain approval from the board because some of the electrical boxes for the underground electrical lines will be on its land.
“My main issue was that I understand exactly what we’re giving away because it’s public land, and that they’re within the buffer of the vernal pools,” Conn said.
Conn said she is concerned about trenching near the vernal pools on Camino Corto because if it rains, excess dirt and silt could run into the pools and upset their delicate eco-system. Before construction begins, Conn said she wants to see SCE’s strategy to protect these pools.
“If you fill that in with dirt you’re going to totally change the vernal pools,” Conn said. “I want to see the plan and make sure everything is in place.”
In addition to gaining IVRPD’s approval, SCE will hire Indian observers to watch for any artifacts that may be uncovered during the trench digging since I.V. is located in an area formerly occupied by Chumash Indians.
If the observers find objects, Brown said, it could make the project take much longer to be completed.
“They’re used just in areas with known artifacts,” Brown said of the observers. “If human remains were found, it could shut down the project for a long time.”
While underground electrical lines are slightly more difficult to repair, Brown said the benefits outweigh the costs, such as being able to avoid the damage caused by poles falling on buildings or in the street.
“The state of California would eventually like to get everything underground,” Brown said.