Neighborhood power line burial effort surges ahead

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Everything exciting in Town Hall moves forward with a powerpoint presentation. Next Monday will be no exception.

The long-anticipated neighborhood project wherein power lines will all be buried with fiber optic cable as well will be discussed and the final cost to property owners will be disclosed.

Part of the delay was the Town Commission asked town staff to move ahead with surveying the specific costs and determining a more accurate impact on the property owners.

The neighborhood project, which will cost about $25 million, will be paid through non ad valorem assessments with each property owner paying an amount determined by a formula that confers a monetary ‘benefit’ attributable to the owner and their parcel.

For Town Manager Dave Bullock, the value this project as well as the other part of the equation – burying power lines along Gulf of Mexico Drive – were underscored by the impact Hurricane Irma had on the existing customers.

Bullock said that of the 2,500 utility customers with overhead lines on Longboat Key, more than 2,200 were out of power after the storm. For many, that outage lasted days. Additionally, it was downed power lines on Gulf of Mexico Drive that slowed access and re-entry to the key. Bullock said he was not aware of any problems with buried lines, except where those buried lines were connected to overhead lines.

In fact, buried lines consistently performed better during wind events, and Longboat Key has experienced far more tropical storms than it has systemic flooding or water inundation.

As for the power line burial project, the commission will workshop the resolution on the assessment amounts and that will then move to the November meeting for formal action.

Bullock said after the final analysis, along with the change the commission made last year, which was to pay 50 percent of the neighborhood general benefit out of non ad valorem revenue, it raised the cost on some and lowered it on others. On average, the amount assessed for those who currently have above ground lines, will go up about 9 or 10 percent over the previous estimates. For those who already have underground lines, such as at Bay Isles or Islandside, the cost will go down about 20 percent.

Property owners can go to the town website at www.longboatkey.org where they can enter their address into a database and it will tell them exactly what they will pay for the neighborhood project as well as the Gulf of Mexico Drive project. There is also the option to pre-pay the neighborhood project instead of paying an annual assessment.

If the commission tells the manager to move ahead with the project, then there will be two public hearings by the end of this year. The next step would be bond validation and after that point, the bidding process for the contract to underground the town utilities would begin.

Bullock expects the construction to underground all of the utilities on Longboat Key to take no more than three years. Voters approved last March allowing the town to issue revenue bonds not to exceed $23,850,000 to be paid in 30 years. The vote passed with 54.95 percent voting ‘yes’ and 45.05 percent voting ‘no.’

As an example of the cost impacts, homes that are not undergrounded will generally pay between $300 and $500 per year for 30 years to fund the neighborhood project. Properties that are already undergrounded will pay between $50 and $70 per year according to the examples provided by the town.

One of the next components of the projects that has not been discussed at length are the street light options, and that will be part of an upcoming workshop.

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