Poles along the Teche

by Mary Tutwiler

There's good news and bad news when it comes to the ginormous utility poles erected in New Iberia's historic district. The good news is that New Iberia mayor Hilda Curry met with utility company CLECO and got them to remove the 70 foot tall concrete erections out of the front yard of Stuart and Christina Gonsuron. The bad news is that the poles will be replaced by ordinary wooden creosote poles stabilized by guy-wires.

What's really maddening is the huge concrete poles were approved by the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development office here in Lafayette. DOTD has been working with New Iberia to change out the old two-lane bridge which crosses the bayou at Jefferson Street. It being the historic district, DOTD worked with city officials to design a bridge that would fit in with the neighborhood. The bridge work instituted the necessity to change out the existing utility poles, which will be in the way of the cranes once work begins on the bridge. Bill Fontenot, district engineer administrator at DOTD signed off on the transmogrified poles, stating that they added to the aesthetic of the district. The state paid for the upgrade to the giant poles; Fontenot says he thought that getting rid of the guy-wires was a good objective.

What's incomprehensible is why not use that extra money to bury the lines instead of building humongous poles. CLECO is working on redoing some of the electric grid in the section of New Iberia across Bayou Teche from downtown. It sure seems like a great opportunity to get those cables underground. Think no electricity outages during hurricanes. Think saving all the costs of constant tree trimming to keep the wires clear. Think beautiful unobstructed views of streetscapes and sunsets. It seems like there is a huge disconnect between how the residents of the neighborhood would choose to spend their tax dollars, if anyone asked them, and what the state decides.

Gonsuron says he never could get any information about what was happening in his front yard from CLECO before the poles went up. I'm sure this was a very expensive exercise in community relations and sensitivity to historic districts. Was it a lesson learned? Depends on who paid the bill.