In the wake of Friday's storm that caused more than 75,000 power outages in Fort Wayne, a city councilman is pushing for a look into whether Indiana Michigan Power should start burying more of its lines to protect them from harm.
Councilman Mitch Harper, R-4th, says he would support hiring a research firm to analyze the costs and benefits of gradually replacing overhead wires with underground power lines that would be less vulnerable to wind and broken tree limbs.
"You've got something here where whole power poles are snapped off," Harper said of Friday's storm, which produced wind gusts of up to 91 mph. "I think we could do better at reducing the number of exposed lines."
Harper said council ought to consider putting some of the city's $75 million City Light-lease fund toward a study, possibly in collaboration with other Midwestern cities vulnerable to severe weather and widespread power outages.
Mayor Tom Henry said burying power lines could help with severe weather-related outages but would be costly and could bring other concerns. Buried power lines can pose safety risks for homeowners and construction workers, he said.
"I see the benefit in it on the one hand," Henry said. "But from a vulnerability to human problems rather than natural problems, and then the added cost, the cost may outweigh the benefits."
Industry analysts have estimated the cost of buried power lines at as much as 10 times that of overhead wires.
I&M spokeswoman Sarah Bodner said the company often buries power lines in new subdivisions, but older urban settings pose more challenges. One of the main obstacles in central Fort Wayne is the city's mature tree canopy with its deep root system, she said.
"You have all kinds of buried things, so when you start digging, you run into all kinds of problems," she said.
Harper suggested I&M could start coordinating with existing city street projects to gradually replace overhead wires with underground lines along major thoroughfares.