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The City of Conway has received a Municipal Achievement Award for moving its electric utility lines underground. Officials accepted the award during the Municipal Association of South Carolina's Annual Meeting on July 18. The city won in the 10,001 – 20,000 population category. Twenty-nine cities and towns submitted their projects and initiatives.
When Conway's downtown was built, overhead power lines were the conventional method of delivering electricity to the area's homes and businesses. Over time, the overhead wires, utility poles and other heavy-duty equipment became eyesores and detracted from the city's historic skyline of steeples and spires. When Santee Cooper, the electric provider, approached Conway officials about moving the utility lines underground, the city jumped at the idea.
To finance the project, the city and Santee Cooper established a fund dedicated solely to the project. The city amended its franchise agreement with Santee Cooper to provide for the project's funding. The city contributes two percent of its franchise fee to the fund, which is matched dollar-for-dollar by Santee Cooper.
Completely reconfiguring the city's grid was time-consuming. The city worked with residents and merchants to mitigate the economic impact of construction and asked the contractors to schedule their work around peak shopping seasons and special events
Santee Cooper removed 13,200 feet of aerial power lines from the downtown and commercial areas. As the poles, transformers and overhead wiring came down, the distinctive character of Conway's historic district was revealed. To enhance the conversion, the city installed new, decorative street lights and lamp posts to illuminate the facades.
Using downtown as a blueprint, Conway officials hope to begin a multiphase conversion project along the city's main thoroughfare soon.
"By working with its utility company to bury overhead electric lines, the City of Conway is more attractive to its residents, its visitors and its local businesses," said Miriam Hair, executive director for the Municipal Association.
These winning entries represent innovative projects undertaken by Municipal Association member cities and towns. More information and a video about the project are available on the Association's website.
The Municipal Association of South Carolina initiated the Achievement Awards in 1987 to recognize and encourage innovations and excellence in local government.