Corp Comm Connects

'Please move them away': Richmond Hill residents enraged by enormous hydro poles
June 30, 2021

Tall poles newly erected by Alectra Utilities raise concerns about health, safety, property values

"I can't sleep tight with that," Katherine Cho pointed to a massive hydro pole outside her bedroom window on Sapphire Drive.

Alectra Utilities recently installed an array of 80 to 95-foot-tall hydro poles along the western residential side of Leslie Street between Major Mackenzie Drive and Princeton Drive.

But Cho was left in the dark until she saw the giant pole that she couldn't "unsee."

"These poles are unsightly and the thought of them has meant sleepless nights for many neighbours," said resident representative Glenn Steplock.

Alectra said the project was initiated by Urbacon, a data centre designer and builder, to supply power to the industrial subdivision for its Barker Business Park digital campus at Via Renzo Drive.

Most municipalities have consent agreements with local electric distributors that provide them the authority to construct electricity infrastructure as required on streetside rights of way when communities grow, according to Richmond Hill Acting Mayor Joe DiPaola.

Leslie Street, as a regional road, is maintained and operated by York Region. "The hydro line development is on a regional road and as such the application for construction of the hydro line was submitted to York Region, not the City of Richmond Hill," said DiPaola.

According to Alectra, municipal consent from York Region was obtained in December 2020, and part of the consent process requires Alectra's construction plans to be circulated to the region, the city and other utilities for comments.

However, neither the acting mayor nor Ward 3 Coun. Castro Liu was informed. "I find it very problematic," said Liu.

Alectra said project notification was distributed to more than 600 homes in the area in mid-May of 2021 and construction started later that month.

However, some residents only received the letter after the hydro poles had been erected adjacent to their houses and backyards. Residents say the letter itself was ambiguous.

"The location of construction refers to streets south of Major Mackenzie while we live north of Major Mackenzie. Even though our neighbourhood street names are listed in the letter, this notice does not clearly state the placement of the hydro poles," said Rimsha Aziz and Chris Singh, both residents in the area for more than 20 years.

Alectra now admits the ambiguity. "Letters were not clear enough. We apologize for the confusion, frustration and concerns that this has caused to the neighbourhood," said Blair Peberdy, vice-president of government and corporate relations at Alectra Utilities, at a Zoom town hall meeting on June 15.

Cho, Steplock and more than 80 residents attended the meeting. On behalf of residents, Steplock raised concerns of the impact posed by the poles on their health, safety and property values.

"These poles have resulted in much anxiety amongst homeowners. They will certainly devalue home prices given their proximity," said Steplock. "It's shocking there was absolutely no consultation, and they only acknowledge it in hindsight."

Alectra said overhead construction along main arterial roads with pole lines on both sides of street is a standard construction practice in North America, and "undergrounding is cost-prohibited at nearly six to eight times the price of the equivalent overhead."

"We can't force Urbacon to pay for the undergrounding," said Doug Fairchild, vice-president of distribution design at Alectra Utilities. However, residents simply requested to remove the few poles near their homes.

"Is it safe for these poles to be placed here? There is no accessible information provided or highlighted about any potential impact or hazard," said resident Qi Zhang. "Please move the poles away!"

Facing backlash from the community, Alectra has agreed to put construction on hold to review technical options and estimate cost. Alectra also promised to communicate on the decision with Richmond Hill in two weeks.

"We're getting a double whammy -- not only will we have poles to contend with, we'll have exhaust stacks to add to our view," said resident Manny Aranas. "They might as well rezone our neighbourhood to industrial because that's what it's starting to look like."