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Now is the time to move downtown substation, council member says

With all the activity and changes happening at the southern end of the bridge project, some in Hastings say this is the perfect time to take care of a long-standing concern in the downtown district.

The downtown power substation, which is owned by Xcel Energy, was built in 1949. The location was chosen for its central location, which would best serve the load center in Hastings. Currently, the substation provides power to about 5,800 customers from around 31st Street on the south to Louis Lane, Lyn Way and State Street on the west, the Mississippi River on the north and to the eastern city limits.

Twice now the city has inquired about what it would take to relocate the substation. The first time was in 2004, during discussion about the Heart of Hastings plan. The new bridge brought the issue up again. Both times, it was simply the cost of moving the substation that deterred the council from pursuing it.

Xcel estimated that it would cost just over $14 million to move the substation. Why so much?

"Completely new equipment would need to be purchased, as the existing substation would need to be kept in service until a new facility was completed," said Xcel spokesperson Patti Nystuen.

Also included in the cost would be an upgrade in the voltage rating from 69 kilovolts to 115 kilovolts, land purchase, site preparation and modified line infrastructure.

"I think everybody would like to see the substation moved," said mayor Paul Hicks. "...I think $14 million is out of anybody's reach to do so."

If the city were to request the substation be moved, the city would also have to bear the burden of cost, something Hicks doesn't feel is an option.

"The city of Hastings isn't in a position to pay $14 million to move it," he said.

Still, there are some still fighting to see something done, including council member Joe Balsanek.

"This is the time to take everything that needs to be done and do it right," Balsanek said.

The substation is an eyesore, he said, and the new bridge will only offer a better view of the structure from above. Downtown businesses have told Balsanek they feel it's a danger to have such high voltage so close to the businesses, pedestrians and apartments.

Even though the move comes with a hefty price tag, there are ways to get it paid for. He believed there was a state statute that allows an increase of 12 percent to a project after the contract is signed. Such an allowance would nearly cover the cost of replacing the substation, Balsanek said.

"There would be money available, albeit state money," he said.

In principle, Balsanek admitted he has a problem asking the state to pitch in funds to move Xcel's facility. But on a smaller scale, it's already happening.

In order to construct the new bridge, a power line tower to the west of the existing bridge had to be replaced with a new, low-profile mono-pole. A second tower on the east side of the bridge is also getting replaced, paid for out of the visual quality portion of the bridge budget.

Balsanek resisted the notion, saying that if the city waits, Xcel would have to pay to replace the structure on its own.

"I don't think that the city should get involved in paying for the replacement of something that is not our responsibility," he said.

It was agreed, however, that making the two poles match was worth the $460,000 to replace the east tower.

"Because of visual quality, we should have two mono-poles," Hicks said.

Xcel is already in the process of replacing the east tower. The foundation will be installed Dec. 3 and the tower in the first part of January.

Since the bridge budget is already paying for one substation upgrade, Balsanek wants to know why moving the station couldn't also come out of the bridge funds. Even though the contracts have already been signed, changes can be made through change orders.

"That's perfectly legal and perfectly logical," Balsanek said.

It doesn't look as if the substation will get moved any time soon, despite Balsanek's efforts. Instead, the city is talking with Xcel about other options to make the substation look more attractive.

"How do we have that substation screened and more presentable," Hicks said.