To bury, or not to bury

Staff Columnist

To bury, or not to bury;

That is the question.

Whether to walk

Or take the bus;

It’s all just talk,

Not worth the fuss.

(apologies to Bill Shakespeare)

One can start at New Pass Bridge and walk north on the east sidewalk the entire length of Longboat Key.

Coming back, it is better to take the bus (trolley), because for a good two thirds of the way, there is no sidewalk on the gulf side of Gulf of Mexico Drive.

Either way, an observant traveler must be struck by the manicured beauty of the key, with its thoughtful plantings on either side of the bilateral bicycle lanes framing the state highway.

Visitors to Longboat Key are drawn to the beauty of our island paradise, with its careful building density and business sign regulations maintaining an ambiance which is the envy of less well planned communities.

Currently, the Town Commission is wrestling with the question of whether to underwrite the cost of an island wide undergrounding endeavor, which would replace all overhead wires (and the poles supporting them) by burying the lines along the right of way.

The cost is estimated at slightly more than $23 million dollars, for just the Gulf of Mexico Drive, to be paid for by ad valorem (across the board) taxes on every island taxpayer.

If the project is extended to neighborhoods, the cost goes up by an additional $22 million dollars or so, but the question arises as to whether that cost should be borne solely by the individual neighborhoods benefitted.

Proponents offer two justifications for the project.

The first reason advanced it that it “adds to the beauty of Gulf of Mexico Drive.”

That proposition is somewhat debatable. Eradication of wire-bearing poles does not completely eliminate visible poles, because poles must continue to be provided for the purpose of street lighting.  (Without them, automobiles would not know which way to go at night, and turtle hatchlings would be confused as to what direction to avoid.)

Secondly, Gulf of Mexico Drive is already beautiful.  Saying that undergrounding wires will make it more beautiful is like saying that painting Cleopatra’s toenails enhanced her looks.  It may be all too true, but their lack is really not what attracted Marc Antony, Julius Caesar, and the historians who came after.

If this is a classic case of “gilding the lily,” is the expense worth the effort?

The other argument put forth by the undergrounders is that burying the high strung lines and eliminating most of the poles is a safety issue.

That proposal may make a lot of sense in places like Buffalo, New York, or New England, where ice can accumulate on wires and bring down live lines, poles and trees in great profusion.

Longboat Key does not worry about ice or snow, especially in the view of climate change espoused by my friend and colleague, Tom Burgum.

We do need to be concerned about hurricanes and severe windstorms which, if  Florida’s official insurance company, Citizens Insurance, is correct, could snap a few wires and suffer a few poles brought down by falling Australian Pines.

Far more likely, however, would be an increase in water surges overrunning our barrier island, thereby flooding the roadways and anything buried therein.

Salt water corrosion, rusting and natural deteriorzation are more likely to produce shorts and dangers of electrocution by water soaked underground lines and transformers than what has been observed in the years that pole strung  wiring has been in existence on Longboat Key.

The present Town Commission has opted to kick the can down the road and leave the problem for the new Commission that takes office next month.

That group will likely opt for turning the decision over to the electorate for a referendum vote later in the year over two issues:

First:  Should undergrounding been done on Gulf of Mexico Drive only, to be paid for with ad valorem bonds?

Second:  Should undergrounding be done in neighborhoods (many of which are already undergrounded) and how to apportion costs?

Last, but not least:  If safety is not an issue, how many millions of borrowed money is it worth to paint Cleopatra’s toenails?

Richard  Hershatter is a retired Connecticut lawyer and novelist who write an occasional column of interest to Floridians. He can be reached at Banyan502@AOL.



























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