The Journal Gazette
Wednesday, March 16, 2016 7:52 pm

You hold power to alter AEP's plan

Elton Bishop

I write out of concern for the future of downtown Fort Wayne and surrounding areas. A proposed AEP project aims to turn eight acres of prime downtown real estate into an electric substation that will permanently and negatively affect much of the area around Parkview Field, the historic Baker Street train station, the Baker/Fairfield Improvement District, the new Citilink bus depot and, especially, the Harrison Corridor.

The proposed project will not only damage existing aesthetics and create physical and psychological barriers between downtown and the neighborhoods immediately to the south, but it may also threaten future passenger rail service downtown.

The proposed project location is immediately south of the Norfolk-Southern railroad tracks, on the west side of Harrison Street. It is directly across the tracks from the historic Baker Street train station, caddy-cornered from the new Citilink bus depot.

Both substation footprints proposed by AEP, according to a Sept. 26 neighborhood meeting, include chain-link fencing and barbed wire along the sidewalk of Harrison Street and along Melita Street. As shown, both proposed footprints would occupy only about a third of the total property area.

AEP engineers explained that the lines to the substation will span two sets of railroad tracks, with monopoles in the Baker Street train station parking lot. The lines will span what would be the boarding area of the train station, so the downtown view of the train station would have an overarching industrial aesthetic.

At a meeting in January 2012, AEP representatives stated that two other locations were possible that would not interfere with downtown, and that, regardless of which location was finally selected, service would be identical.

I am currently unaware of anyone in city government who had notice of such plans prior to neighborhood involvement. It seems AEP did not inform city officials of their plans despite the permanent and negative effects the project could have. When asked why no one from the city knew anything about this proposed project, an AEP representative responded, "We invited them to a meeting but nobody could make it."

When asked for technical info regarding the Melita substation, AEP engineers made the following remarks:

• The current Melita substation will be adequate "for the next 40 years or so."

• "There is no rush for the project to move ahead."

• "Melita is, largely, unnecessary." As a technical note, downtown is served primarily by the Spy Run substation.

AEP representatives have, as of yet, refused to speak directly to the issue of potential interference with future passenger rail service downtown. On Nov. 18, an AEP representative told me they have not yet closed on the property purchase.

My own assessment suggests that if AEP goes ahead with plans for the proposed substation, there will be a physical and psychological disconnect and barrier between downtown and the neighborhoods immediately south of downtown. This is especially true along Harrison Street. This includes the rapidly gentrifying Hoagland-Masterson and Williams Woodland Park neighborhoods, as well as surrounding neighborhoods. Downtown will never develop southward.

There also will likely be a negative effect on future passenger rail service at Baker Street. How can we put a train stop under high-voltage power lines?

If AEP were to select another location, however, the land will eventually be developed, more than likely for commercial purposes that more directly benefit Fort Wayne both economically and culturally. Downtown will more easily expand southward along corridors such as Harrison, Calhoun and Fairfield streets. The connection between historic neighborhoods and downtown will be maintained and strengthened.

The best possible outcome, for both AEP and Fort Wayne, appears to be for the company to select one of its other proposed sites for its substation expansion. Failing that, the next best outcome would be to move the footprint at least 100 yards to the west, away from Harrison Street and the train station.

AEP has provided top-quality service to the people of Fort Wayne, and they undoubtedly will continue to do so. This appeal is not in any way a negative judgment of the company; they are good people doing a great job.

However, decisions that could greatly affect and shape the future of entire communities must be considered carefully, and with input from many points of view. We need open and honest discussion on this issue now.

We need to work together so that a truly wise decision that Fort Wayne can be proud of for generations to come may be made.

I encourage you to contact our elected officials to let them know your comments and concerns. AEP community relations representatives may also want your input.

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