ALBANY — In the aftermath of the destruction brought by weather-related calamities in the community, including twin January 2017 storms and Hurricane Michael in October 2018, when entire electrical circuits in the city of Albany were decimated, a resident asked city officials why utilities personnel didn’t simply convert overhead electric and fiber optics to underground infrastructure.

That was an easy one for utilities officials: Converting just one of the city’s 52 circuits would come with a price tag of $10 million.

City officials will be converting the so-called Sandy Bottom Circuit that serves a strategic part of the city’s utilities infrastructure including hundreds of residences and businesses, Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital and other health care facilities after being awarded an $8 million competitive grant by the Economic Development Administration. The city will be required to match the grant with $2.6 million, which City Manager Sharon Subadan said Thursday would come from SPLOST funding.

“This is great news for our community,” Subadan said. “It gives us the opportunity to leverage our SPLOST funds and make strategic infrastructure improvements that will allow us to mitigate future natural disasters if they occur.

“Subject experts said this area along Roosevelt, Jefferson and Eight Avenue is where this work is most needed, and there are a number of reasons. Obviously the hospital and other health care facilities are vital during emergencies. For example, dialysis clinics that lost power during the most recent storm created a crisis. And the seniors at Malone Towers had no way of getting out of their building. When you’re bidding on a competitive project like this, those kinds of issues matter.”

In a letter to Albany City Commissioners, Subadan said, “Specifically, this project converts existing overhead electric and fiber optic utilities to underground infrastructure that serves facilities and businesses in parts of downtown Albany, Pheobe Putney Hospital, and the supporting medical, residential and business community. Once the project is complete it will improve the resiliency of the city’s critical infrastructure and mitigate future occurrences of prolonged utility failure in the event of natural disasters.”

The city manager said significant contributions of time, talent and support went into preparing the application and its successful consideration by the Economic Development Administration. In addition to Planning, Utilities and Engineering staff, the Regional Planning Commission also helped to develop the successful application.

Support also came from the region’s Congressional delegation and federal lobbyist Marion Turner, as well as “other local partners.”

“During the recent tornadoes and Hurricane Michael, the circuit that feeds parts of downtown and Phoebe suffered severe damage,” Utilities Director Jimmy Norman said in a city news release. “The power restoration efforts in the area took a lot of time. The EDA grant will help us make much-needed improvements to the critical circuit.

“We are excited to be the recipient of the grant and are ready to get started on the project.”

Subadan said the city will bid the project, and payments to contractors will be paid in phases as parts of the project are completed.

“The work must be very specific to our grant application,” she said.

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