New electric poles spark controversy

The two new utility poles tower into the sky.
Published: .
Updated: .

Powering part of downtown may come at a price to some wildlife along the White River.

New utility poles have been installed along Michigan Street and they are probably unlike any you've ever seen.

 Along the banks of the White River, on Michigan Street, they're hard to miss. 

"I would say it's an eyesore", said Alix Walker of Greenwood, who walks along the river daily. 

The two new utility poles tower into the sky.  At 106 feet tall each, they are among the highest poles in Indianapolis.

"I would say they're a little on the ugly side", explained Andy Moser of Indianapolis,  "Steel and kind of industrial looking.  Not all that pretty."

But do they pose a problem?

"It definitely sticks out," said Will Feest as he ran along the White River. "If you were to ask an environmental person I'm sure they'd say yes.  But for the average person like me, I'm sure there's a benefit from it."

The beneficiaries include the new Eskenazi Hospital, which will receive power via the new poles.  IUPUI and the IU Medical Center will also get electricity.  They'll replace old nearby wooden poles about half as tall. 

 "If they were located parallel to the river it probably wouldn't pose as much a risk.  But the birds are flying along the river," explained Don Gorney, a member of Amos Butler Audubon, a bird conservation organization.

In fact, birds like turkey vultures, blue herons and even Canada geese use rivers to help navigate, Gorney said.  He's worried with poles twice as high as the old ones with three times as many power lines, there will essentially be a net along the birds' natural path.

"There are some simple steps that you can do, especially in the design phase to minimize the risk to birds," said Gorney.

Steps include putting markers that are visible to birds on the power lines themselves.  But that's something that won't happen because, according to Indianapolis Power and Light, "We haven't had any problems with birds (colliding) with existing utility poles [in that area]," spokeswoman Brandi Davis-Handy told Eyewitness News. 

The new addition is already clashing with nature.

"They're not very nice looking.  Kind of takes away from the whole walking by the river and enjoying the scenery," said Alix Walker.

The question now: will they indeed be a threat to the creatures that call this place home?