Denton Municipal Electric told the City Council it plans to seek more public input as it plans for, expands and upgrades its grid over the next five years.
DME is pursuing more than $302 million in capital improvements, including about $208 million in substation and transmission line projects beginning this year. The utility must acquire between 60 and 80 acres for substations as well as 25 miles of easement in and around Denton, according to General Manager Phil Williams.
He told the City Council during a workshop session Tuesday afternoon that the utility wants to improve public input in its planning. DME and many other utilities have found it costs more to use eminent domain than it does to work with willing landowners.
“There are additional costs associated with condemnation, such as relocation of homeowners,” Williams said.
DME recommended to the city that the utility amend its contract with POWER Engineers Inc. to create study areas for the proposed Audra Lane and McKinney Street substations.
The firm can help the utility organize public meetings for the projects — expertise the company is known for, Williams said.
Residents would be invited to neighborhood meetings where they could see the proposed routes between substations, Williams told the council.
“This is not the place for a staff presentation — it would be an open house, with come-and-go, to get residents’ input,” Williams said.
Residents would be able to see maps of different routes — for example, the route that cost the least or the route that affected the fewest homes. Residents could share their concerns and ideas about the different routes.
Their feedback then would be formally presented to the city’s Public Utilities Board during a public hearing on the project, similar to the way feedback is organized for the Public Utility Commission of Texas.
The Public Utilities Board would also hear resident comments during those public hearings, Williams said.
The utility is also ready to write its first master plan, similar to the way the city writes a master plan for roads and other city services, Williams said.
“We have an idea where we want to be in 20 years,” Williams said. “We need to get it on paper.”
Two council members encouraged the utility to continue on that track.
Dalton Gregory asked the utility to consider purchasing land, rather than seeking easements, in order for the city to combine uses, such as trails and open space, as other cities have done. Pete Kamp asked when the council would hear more about how the plan is coming along, to which Williams said formal documents would be part of next year’s budget.
In an interview after the session, DME spokesman Brian Daskam said that a schedule of public meetings on the expansion plans and study areas would be announced soon.
PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org