The beauty of burying something ugly

Editor & Publisher

They are ugly, will they eventually get buried and go away?

We are not talking about obese beachgoers in t-backs and thongs; we are talking about above ground utilities on Longboat Key.

And yes, they will get buried and go away — If politics do not get in the way.  Unfortunately, on Longboat Key politics often devolves into the recalcitrant rantings by a handful of malcontents — it always seems to drive or derail policy.

And that is of serious concern. It will take the focused determination of our current Town Commission to push forward with the latest proposal to bury the power lines in the neighborhoods. The plan will be attacked as unfair, undemocratic and perhaps unnecessary. But we need their steadfastness. That is what we pay them the big money for on Longboat Key — to stay the course and not enter the convoluted land of policy making gone awry.

The reactiveness, the idealism, the ideology of all of the interested and impassioned residents and spectators to this attempt by the Town to tackle the undergrounding issue could end up spoiling the undertaking. Let me explain.

Take the Village. The screeching of peacocks has led to the screeching of residents, which has led to a bizarre policy — to eradicate all of the birds except 12 males.

Has anyone ever heard of such a strange idea? It is Betty Friedan’s nightmare — like India on steroids.  We will gather and remove the females like so many Japanese in World War II and relocate them. Maybe they can throw them off the bridge in pillowcases.

But today we are talking about undergrounding power lines, not our Jihad against the peacocks and their misplaced mal-a-drops.


Everyone pays…

Town Manager Dave Bullock has returned like Moses from the Mount radiating a proposal that asks all property owners to pay a share in the cost to underground the neighborhoods.

There has been anticipation among the populace for his presentation. In short, Bullock’s proposal has all property owners with already undergrounded utilities paying 18.5% of the $20.5 million cost. Those who benefit the most — those who currently have above ground lines — pay the remaining 81.5%.

The reality is this method, this concept of everyone paying something, will actually get the job done.  It treats the burying of the neighborhoods as a community-wide benefit and everyone will be allowed to vote on the matter.

Can the method be assailed and deconstructed? Yes. Is it clumsy and imperfect? Yes. But so was Alina Cojocaru at birth.

All great undertakings are met by the nattering nabobs of negativism. And so will this proposal.  But policymaking is truly a sausage full of compromise that we must try and successfully digest.

In this case, the outcome and benefit is so overwhelmingly positive for Longboat Key we ought to encourage our manager and Commission. We must help them past the Scylla and Chardybis of so-called concerned residents who will admonish them and bellyache and refuse to eat the sausage as prepared. They will offer their own plan.  Let the Commission look past the chattering kabobs of connectivity and the impetuously pesky pundits. Bullock is on the right track and with a few refinements and some additional work, his plan is the correct course.


Embracing the imperfect

How Bullock arrived at the idea that those who are already undergrounded pay 18.5% of the total cost is open to debate.  The cost to those who have undergrounded lines already is a mere $30 to $40 per year for 30 years. The cost to those who will get their lines buried and thereby directly benefit is $400 to $700 per year for 30 years.

Most residents and voters agree that undergrounding the neighborhoods is a great idea. Who would not want to have something obtrusive and ugly simply disappear?

The rub comes in who should pay what.

Some residents want a flat tax approach with the total bill paid evenly by every taxpayer. That comes to about $4,700 per parcel. This idea will never fly politically nor pragmatically. Here is why: two thirds of the island already have their power lines undergrounded and the majority of these taxpayers stand to gain far less than someone who is having the lines buried directly in front of their home and on their neighborhood street.

And those who have already had their lines buried paid once for it when they bought their home — it was built into the price of their property. How can you ask them to pay for theirs and yours?

So the idea of all of us coming together and paying an equal share has a community socialist utopian warm fuzzy feeling that will go nowhere. Human nature likes to support others, but prefers to support itself.

The method the Commission initially supported was also flawed in the other extreme. It conferred no recognition of any value whatsoever to those with already buried power lines and they would pay nothing. The Commission was correct in ordering the manager to recognize some value to everyone in burying the neighborhoods.


It takes a Village to bury a pole

We are a community and burying the power poles on all of the side streets will surely bring an aesthetic value to everyone on the Key. There is also a value in creating a community-wide fiber optic network.  And that is specifically where Bullock and the Commission should go one step further — the fiber optic network.

Bullock’s proposal as it stands now would bury all of the side streets and put dark fiber cable with all of the potentialities that brings only to the neighborhoods. The same dark fiber will be placed along Gulf of Mexico Drive when that already approved project takes place.

What is missing is that two thirds of the residents — the very ones who already have their lines buried — will be asked to contribute to undergrounding the utilities in the neighborhoods, yet will have no access to this dark fiber and our telecommunication future.


Entering the future darkly

The Commission ought ask Bullock to calculate the additional cost of running the fiber optic to all residences that already have buried power lines. It is far less costly and simpler to bury the dark fiber than utility lines.

This is a chance to create a town-wide integrated fiber optic system that will have benefits in WiFi, telecommunications, emergency services and whatever future uses emerge. More importantly, we would be embarking on a comprehensive project that ties our community together. It also would give those homeowners in Bay Isles and in the condominiums on the Gulf a benefit that everyone else would otherwise enjoy.

I posit it will add no more than another $20 to $30 per year to the cost of the project for each parcel owner. Not doing this would be an error.

Perhaps most importantly, how can you ask one universe of residents to recognize the value of enhancing other neighborhoods and yet not seize the opportunity to bring the same level of enhancement to their homes?

We are on the cusp of the most positive direction this Commission has embarked upon. Burying the lines and adding the telecommunications will set a new stage for the next generation of Longboat Key.

After all, James Joyce wrote, “Let the Dead bury the Dead.”

I would simply suggest in this case, “Let government bury all utility.”


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2 Responses for “The beauty of burying something ugly”

  1. Ed Krepela says:

    Amen brother; you are now officially part of the team!
    Ed Krepela

  2. Gabe Rosica says:

    You are on target. Splitting the cost 80/20 (18.5/81.5 is a little too precise for an old electrical engineer like me), and putting in fiber everywhere( and charging those of us who already have underground wiring for our fiber in addition to the 20%, or perhaps the 1.5% extra that got me to 20% does it) is the right thing to do. We all share in the cost and all end up with the same benefit.

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