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CINCINNATI, OH (FOX19) -
After two years of talks, Duke Energy has agreed to begin relocating the utilities along the Cincinnati Streetcar route.
Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory and City Manager Milton Dohoney, Jr. made the announcement on Friday.
Under the agreement, Duke Energy will begin moving its utilities immediately, while a court determines responsibility for the relocation costs later.
The City and Duke Energy have also agreed on an operations plan for how the utility company and the City will work in partnership once the Streetcar is up and running.
"From the beginning, I said that we would come to agreement with Duke, and we have," Mayor Mallory said. "Duke Energy is one of the City of Cincinnati's strongest corporate partners, and they will be strong partners as we build the Streetcar and continue to grow our city."
The City and Duke have signed two agreements. The first agreement is an Operations Agreement that provides for how Duke will collaborate with the Streetcar's construction, and how it will safely access its utilities in City streets once the streetcar is operational. It spells out provisions for routine, extended, and emergency maintenance of the electrical and gas lines along the streetcar route. Duke has agreed to relocate only those utilities in direct conflict with the streetcar slab or where access is located three feet or less from the edge of the track slab.
The second agreement is a Cooperation Agreement between the City and Duke, which lays out how the two parties will resolve the question of who is responsible for the costs of relocating Duke's utilities in City streets for the Streetcar project. Duke and the City agreed to seek a declaratory judgment in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court, abiding by the court ruling.
City legal representatives say they anticipate appeals to follow the initial ruling.
Duke Energy released a statement to FOX19 following Mallory's announcement:
"This lawsuit should not be misinterpreted to reflect a major conflict between Duke Energy and the City of Cincinnati. We have simply reached an impasse regarding who bears the cost responsibility and have now agreed with the city that this issue will best be resolved through the lawsuit. This is the result of two sides working together at the table as oppose to walking away. The agreement allows construction to proceed while we obtain a legal determination on certain issues created by the right of way ordinance."
According to Duke Energy, the company currently has no plans to withdraw its pursuit of a "rider" being considered by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio.
"Duke Energy believes that the facility relocation - mass transportation riders are a good tool that could provide local governments the flexibility to cover the costs for qualifying projects like the streetcar, through the project's budget or at the local governments choosing elect to pass the costs to their citizens who will the greatest benefits from the project in question."
"The utilities' agreements are in place, the cars are being ordered, and the construction bids are coming in," said City Manager Milton Dohoney, Jr. "The Streetcar is happening."
On Sept. 26, 2012, the Cincinnati City Council authorized $15 million for potential utility work. Money that will be put into an escrow account until the parties receive a final decision from the courts. If the court determines that Duke is responsible for the costs, the money, which came from the sale of the Blue Ash Airport, will be returned to the City. If the City is responsible, Duke will receive the actual costs of the relocation, with any remainder returned to the City.
Mayor Mark Mallory says he would like to see the project fast-tracked to completion for Cincinnati's time in the spotlight in 2015, but doesn't guarantee that timeline.
"It would be great if we could be up and running by the time the All-Star game occurs however let me say that priority number one is to make sure that we have a safe, functional, fully operational streetcar," said Mallory.
Contractors' bids on the project are due by February 8th. The current deadline for completion of the project is spring of 2016.