Surveying the damage from Friday night's storm this afternoon, Mayor R.T. Rybak said he wants to consider a number of preventative measures that could soften the blow of the city's next major weather event.
Those measures could include burying power lines, building sidewalks differently or planting different species of trees, he said.
"If you have half a million people without power in a metropolitan area for several days, what does that mean for productivity?" Rybak said outside of Everett's meat shop on 38th Street, where the freezers were back up and running.
Looking at some nearby power lines, he asked, "Is that the most effective way for us to guarrantee power to a city deeply dependent on it?" After several incidents in recent years, including two inner-city tornados, he observed that they are a "pretty tentative way" to transport energy.
Rybak was careful to say that he wasn't calling for any particular change, but rather merely asking the question. Burying power lines is expensive. Xcel says they cost between 10 and 20 times more than overhead lines. A state agency recently ordered Xcel to bury lines that would have gone over the Midtown Greenway, at an extra cost of about $17.5 million.
"The main issue is how do we make sure we do the best job possible to get a reliable energy source," Rybak said. "That could mean just securing these and protecting them in a different way. It could mean burying them. It should mean also looking more at local generation, so in these crises, people who are smart enough to get non-grid sources" don't lose power.
Responding to some of Rybak’s thoughts, Dave Sparby, president and CEO of Northern States Power-Minnesota, a subsidiary of Xcel energy, said “if the city wanted to us to assist them in examining alternatives here, we’d gladly do that.”
Kent Larson, Xcel’s senior vice president of operations, said burying the entire city distribution network could double residents’ energy bills. Burying lines is complicated, he said, because of obstacles including fences, sprinkler systems, sidewalks, driveways and garages.
Larson said they are looking at other ways to “harden” the system against future weather. That may involve new methods of keeping the poles upright, including breakaway conductors and better quality poles. “We’re still in the developmental stage of those ideas,” Larson said.
The mayor also said that the city may want to replace the fallen trees with certain species that are less prone to falling. He also mused that different sidewalk designs could alleviate storm damage.
"We didn't see too many streets that are completely wiped out," Rybak said. "That's good, because we still have a pretty amazing tree canopy around here."
Just who pays for the extensive sidewalk damage remains to be seen. Rybak said they while they typically pay for sidewalk repairs through assessments on property owners, they did not do that after the 2011 North Minneapolis tornado. He said the City Council will have to examine the issue.
Photo: Rybak surveys storm damage Monday afternoon (Jeff Wheeler)