Project to bury power lines near the Winthrop Polo Field completed on Mead Avenue

July 31, 2018

A project designed to protect a group of large trees in Aiken’s Horse District has been completed.

The Aiken Land Conservancy announced in a recent press release that the overhead power lines on the portion of Mead Avenue next to the Winthrop Polo Field have been put underground.

The two-year project involved a public/private collaboration between the Land Conservancy, the City of Aiken and SCE&G.

The Land Conservancy wanted the power lines to be buried because of concerns about the amount of pruning that was done on the live oaks in the area to remove limbs that could potentially obstruct the cables and to prevent power outages.

“Whenever SCE&G’s contractors pruned the live oaks around the over-ground power lines, we and the neighbors were shocked at how butchered those grand trees looked after that effort,” said Land Conservancy Executive Director Katie Roth.

According to the release, the Land Conservancy discovered that SCE&G offers a “funding share” program to cities to put power lines underground.

A former Land Conservancy president, Larry Comegys, played an important role in bringing the organization, SCE&G and the City of Aiken together in 2016 to discuss the situation on Mead Avenue.

“The City and SCE&G were excited by and committed to the project from the outset,” Comegys said.

The program offered by SCE&G is called the Non-Standard Service Fund, or NSSF, according to the press release.

Money is credited to the NSSF each year based on a percentage of SCE&G’s electric revenue within the City. Cities can access that money for ‘undergrounding’ projects by providing a dollar-for-dollar match.

The Land Conservancy, through a generous donation from Don and Nancy Nicolaisen, paid half of the City of Aiken’s matching amount for the project on Mead Avenue.

The Land Conservancy also covered the costs for moving the power sources needed to properly irrigate Winthrop Field.

The Nicolaisens own the historic Clark Barn that is adjacent to the Winthrop Field.

“We know how critical the City’s grand trees are to preserving its history and character, and how important it is to protect them for future generations, so we wanted to be the catalyst that could make ‘undergrounding’ the power lines a reality,” Comegys said. “It is not only an aesthetic improvement. It also will increase the reliability of the power lines in storms where we would normally lose power.”

In addition, Comegys said burying the power lines would allow the canopies of the live oaks on Mead Avenue “to start filling in.”

The Land Conservancy purchased Winthrop Field in in 1998 to save it from future development. In addition to polo players, other equestrians and people who walk their dogs use Winthrop Field.

“It was a great project,” said Aiken Mayor Rick Osbon. ‘’It really showed that ‘undergrounding’ can make a significant impact on saving some of our grand trees. We appreciated so much being able to work with the Land Conservancy and SCE&G. It was a terrific partnership.”

Osbon added the City was “very excited about the opportunity to move forward” with a project to bury power lines along South Boundary Avenue.

On July 9, Aiken City Council unanimously approved a contract with SCE&G to put overhead electrical lines underground between Williamsburg Street S.E. and Charleston Street S.E.

The City also is exploring the possibility of burying power lines along the rest of South Boundary.

In other Land Conservancy news, the organization recently established a new office at 300 Park Avenue.

A donation from two longtime Land Conservancy supporters made the opening of the office possible, said Joanna Dunn Samson, president of the organization’s board of trustees.

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