Gilbert to take second look at options along Western Canal

Western Canal
The land along the Western Canal includes underground sewer, wastewater and water pipelines from the town of Gilbert and overhead electrical transmission lines from Salt River Project. (Tom Blodgett/Community Impact Newspaper)

The land along the Western Canal includes underground sewer, wastewater and water pipelines from the town of Gilbert and overhead electrical transmission lines from Salt River Project. (Tom Blodgett/Community Impact Newspaper)

The town of Gilbert is embarking on a second review of its options to address deteriorating pipes along the Western Canal, officials said.

The second look is in response to the objections of 24 homeowners who stand to lose portions of their backyards in an eminent domain action if the town proceeds with its chosen solution. That solution involves the town purchasing its current easements—a right to access property for a specified purpose—on the owners’ properties so it can create permanent access for repairs and maintenance on the pipes and associated maintenance holes.

Homeowners, who live on Hemlock and Commerce avenues and Honeysuckle Lane near Freestone Park, have spoken at council meetings since being notified in December of the town’s plans and had a special meeting with the full council Feb. 25.

“What the town has committed to do is to basically go back and plow that ground as deeply as we can to see if there's anything else that can be turned up,” Town Engineer David Fabiano said.

Seeking an alternative

The town sent homeowners a letter March 8 updating them on the town’s plans to see if another alternative exists.

The letter, signed by Fabiano, told homeowners the town would conduct an updated evaluation of the sewer, water and wastewater pipes involved and look for opportunities to combine work on the pipes, which serve about 25,000 residents in town. The town believes all three pipes will need work in the next three to five years.

“If it is determined to be cost-effective and feasible, we may be able to mitigate the impact to you and your properties by combining the construction/repair/rehabilitation work for multiple utilities within a more compressed time frame,” Fabiano wrote in the letter.

The town also has approached utility provider Salt River Project, which has an adjacent easement along the canal for its electrical transmission wires, about use of its right of way.

The town previously told homeowners that SRP had not been receptive to such use in the past, but, according to the letter, Fabiano, Mayor Brigette Peterson and Town Manager Patrick Banger recently met with SRP to get a “definitive decision” from SRP on such use.

Appraising the properties

The town will, however, continue to have a contractor do independent appraisal work on homeowners’ properties. Fabiano said homeowners had noted the town was not showing true costs for its solution because it did not include the land acquisition costs, which Fabiano acknowledged as true.

However, he said the only way to get that definitive cost was to do the appraisals.

“We're wanting to make sure that we respect property owners wishes and desires as much as we're able,” Fabiano said. “So then we can have accurate estimates for what land costs are.”

Fabiano said the additional review would delay the project but was uncertain how much of a delay it would be.

The town previously considered three possible solutions and presented to homeowners those options and why it believed the one involving purchasing portions of their yards was the best. Homeowners countered that they were willing to grant the town unfettered access to their yards to do the work, which the town previously said was not a feasible solution.

“All I can really stress is this: This is going to be a true evaluation,” Senior Project Manager Jason Montgomery said about the new efforts. “This is going back and looking at everything, speaking with SRP, and we're going to give every alternative that's presented a fair shake. And that includes solutions that are presented by the landowners. We're here to listen to them and listen to the alternatives and the ideas that they're presenting and receive those and complete a true analysis of those alternatives.”
By Tom Blodgett

Editor, Gilbert

Raised in Arizona, Tom Blodgett has spent more than 30 years in journalism in Arizona and joined Community Impact Newspaper in July 2018 to launch the Gilbert edition. He is a graduate of Arizona State University, where he served as an instructional professional in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication from 2005-19 and remains editorial adviser to The State Press, the university's independent student media outlet.