Advocacy group Friends of India Point Park has started a new petition campaign calling on Gov. Lincoln Chafee ’75 P’14, Providence Mayor Angel Taveras and East Providence Mayor James Briden to accelerate the removal of above-ground power lines near the Providence River. The petition, which targets the power lines as an aesthetic barrier to economic development along the waterfront, has garnered over 500 signatures.
Approximately 90 percent of the funds needed to bury the power lines have already been identified, but construction has yet to enter even the planning phase, said David Riley, co-chair of Friends of India Point Park, a community group in the India Point Park area. Members created the petition online to raise awareness and push construction forward.
Putting the power lines underground would improve the waterfront area’s image and increase property values, Riley said. “Proposals to develop land near power lines … are much less attractive than those that aren’t (near power lines).” Properties located near above-ground power lines can lower property values by up to 30 percent, according to studies cited on the Friends of India Point Park website.
The petition officially surpassed half of its 1,000 signature goal last week. Signers hope “burying the power lines will dramatically upgrade the Providence/East Providence waterfront both for public use and for economic development, just as waterfront properties are becoming available for development in both cities,” according to the text of the petition.
The power lines are highly visible when entering the East Providence area from the bay, according to Arthur Salisbury, president of the Jewelry District Association. “We’re supporting the effort, and I did sign the petition, but we are disappointed that it does not include the Jewelry District,” he said.
Power lines run through much of the Jewelry District’s waterfront as well, Salisbury said, but the proposed construction would not completely eliminate the above-ground eyesore.
Riley said any improvements to the waterfront would have far-reaching effects. “It would improve the overall attractiveness of the riverfront, which would help benefit the adjacent area including the Jewelry District.”
If the funds allocated for the project are not used soon, they may expire, Riley said, though he did not specify a timeline.
The plan would run power lines underneath the Providence River, Riley said. First National Grid, the company that controls the majority of Rhode Island’s power lines, must acquire an approximately 100-by-100-foot plot of land to allow wires to come out of the river and enter towers.
Originally the I-195 relocation project intended to bury the area’s power lines, but officials separated the highway relocation project from the power line burial project in the early 2000s. The highway was relocated, opening up 20 acres of land for development, but the power lines remain where they had been.
Momentum from this new campaign may draw the attention necessary to finally bury the power lines, Riley said.
Friends of India Point Park’s website boasts more than 50 statements of support from elected officials and community groups.
“Providence would join the list of cities such as Chattanooga, Louisville and San Antonio that have elevated their profiles by burying power lines that marred their landscapes,” Sam White, principal of Bowl Arts, wrote in a letter to Mayor Angel Taveras.
In a 2003 letter, then-President Ruth Simmons noted the University’s “special connection” to India Point Park when she petitioned then-Gov. Donald Carcieri to bury the power lines in conjunction with the I-195 relocation effort.