The forgotten “almost state” of Puerto Rico sits down there, well below the tip of Florida. It’s not a state. It’s a territory. Citizens of the U.S., but only able to vote in primary elections and not in the finals. That’s that way because the republicans in congress for many years have felt that Puerto Rico would vote democratic, so there they are. Hurricane Maria came blasting in three weeks ago. It designated Puerto Rico as its focal center and catastrophically destroyed the island from end to end, from top to bottom. And the following days have proven illustrative for the mistakes our entire country has made in developing and building upon its own infrastructure and emergency response services to disaster.
The infrastructure problem most evident is in how utilities have failed to keep up with technological leaps and bounds into the future. Wires for electricity and wooden poles to hold them up along almost all roads and highways of the country (and Puerto Rico) were invented by Samuel Morse for the telegraph, and then converted to electrical and telephone wire use by Tesla, Westinghouse and Edison. That was a hundred and sixty years ago, or a bit more. And that is the way things have stayed. Today, because of a lack of vision, motivation in spending money, and a bit of idiocy, the utilities of Puerto Rico don’t exist anymore and the entire country is without power. It is expected it will take a year to get power back. Imagine living a year without electricity.
Underground utilities, like those seen mostly in private communities around Geneva Lake (as in Grand Geneva, the 700 and 709 Clubs) are the answer. The easy answer. But it costs more money to put the utilities underground and then it denies jobs to the people who fix downed lines, lay new ones and put up those old wooden poles. When the poles go down because of natural calamities then something else also happens. Roads cannot be accessed until they are cleared of the wires and poles. The clearing can’t even start until the wires have been determined to carry no electricity (which most of them don’t, of course). The telephone lines also go down so there are no land lines and the cell towers are powered by electricity. You get the idea. The effects of global warming are here, and this last hurricane season put an exclamation point on that issue. More storms are going to come to the mainland.
It won’t just be Puerto Rico, way down there and easily forgettable because it is pretty small, that is going to begin taking it right on the chin. Recently, all along South Lake Shore Drive, Alliant Energy has begun replacing old poles and putting up new wires. They decided to leave the old poles on the other side of the road because they can, and because they don’t want to bother to take them down. Which brings us, all of us living around Geneva Lake, to this last issue. Utility poles, adorned with all their wires and the junk it takes to insulate and hold them up there are downright ugly. They ruin the ambiance of the road area and the spaces around it. The inconvenience (so far) of having downed lines or lost power is minor (so far) compared to the effect of the ugliness. It is time to force the utility companies of this country to begin putting all utility lines underground. This has to start local because almost nothing starts nationally anymore unless it is related to building some doomsday weapon or bit of war material. The war of humanity against the harsh realities of what this planet can throw at it has been never-ending and now, with technology at hand to hold back the night, is not the time to ignore the fact that the earth is not this ambient neat little quiet backwater of a planet. If we want to survive and advance civilization it is time to show up at city halls across the country and demand underground utilities everywhere.
Do it before Puerto Rico becomes Puerto Geneva.