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Duke wins streetcar lawsuit

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The cost of building the first phase of the Cincinnati streetcar project could have just increased by $15 million. 

A Hamilton County Common Pleas Court judge ruled Tuesday the city cannot force Duke Energy to pay the costs of moving underground utilities along the streetcar route.  Duke estimated the cost at $15 million. The city had set aside that amount  from the sale of the Blue Ash Airport in case the judge ruled in Duke's favor.

Cincinnati will appeal the decision. In a statement, City Manager Harry Black writes:

?"Today’s ruling is disappointing, but not surprising. At the time the streetcar project was approved, the utility issue remained unsettled. In order to gain resolution the City entered into a negotiated agreement with Duke and placed money in an escrow account pending the conclusion of the legal process. The streetcar project has been approved by our policymakers and is under construction. Our responsibility now is to bring it in on time and on budget. The case is also important for other cities in Ohio. The decision may ultimately dictate who pays for local infrastructure improvements that require the movement of utilities on public property: the taxpayers or the utility. Consistent with the original understanding that both sides would exhaust all appeals, the City will continue to seek clarity from the Court and appeal this ruling to the First District."

Both parties agree the utility lines and pipes need to be relocated.  But they disagree on who should pay the expense. 

Judge Carl Stitch wrote, "it is not a legitimate use of the City's police powers to compel Duke to bear the expense of relocating utilities to accommodate the construction and operation of a proprietary public transportation system." 

Duke has argued from the beginning the utility relocation expenses should have been included in the streetcar project budget.  The city had included some funding, but it says the company should foot some of the bill since the wires and pipes are getting old and would have to be replaced in the future anyway.