A project that has been off and on for more than a decade is seeing a resurgence on Casey Key.
At the annual Casey Key Association meeting Jan. 27, leaders will discuss with residents the possibility of placing utility lines underground.
“(The project) was put on the back burner, because incorporation muddied the water,” said CKA President Bob Metzger.
The reasons cited for placing electrical and telecommunication lines underground include better aesthetics, more reliability and fewer power interruptions, particularly during hurricanes or tropical storms.
An effort in 2009 to incorporate Casey Key became highly contentious and deeply divided supporters and opponents. Incorporation ultimately failed.
Although the utility-line project is not as controversial, it does have its detractors — some of whom oppose the project because they feel the CKA is advocating it improperly.
“It is a neighborhood association,” said resident Les Inglis. “It doesn’t have any special status, but it tries to influence (residents).”
Metzger disputes that, saying the CKA simply wants to inform all residents about the scope of the proposed project and let them decide whether to go forward.
To prove that, he’s opening up the meeting to all Casey Key residents — not just CKA members.
Consultant Danny Brannon will make a presentation at the meeting, letting residents know about the process for such a project and its cost.
Metzger said Brannon could be asked to conduct a feasibility study on the Key, if residents donate $25,000 for the consultant’s fee.
A three-year-old, project-cost estimate for the 440 homes on Casey Key came in at $10 million. With some possible financial incentives from Florida Power and Light, that worked out to about $1,000 per home, per year, for 20 years.
But Mike Turillo, who has researched the project for the CKA, said with the downturn in the economy, he suspects that price could drop.
Brannon’s firm, Brannon and Gillespie, completed a similar project in 2009 on Jupiter Island, and the total cost was $8.5 million.
Four months ago, Brannon was asked to estimate the cost for an underground utility project in the east Florida town of Gulf Stream, which has 310 single-family homes. He said it cost up to $1,100 per home, per year, for 20 years.
If enough money is raised for the Casey Key study, specific steps must be taken to proceed with the project.
Metzger said a lot of rumors and misinformation has been spread among residents about how such a project could be approved. To clear up the confusion, a county representative will address residents at the annual meeting.
To pay for an underground-utility project, a special taxing district would have to be created on Casey Key.
County commissioners would have to first approve the creation of that district. The commission would only take a vote if one of two steps were taken: At least 67% of property owners would sign a petition supporting a taxing district; or at least 15% of property owners would ask for a special election to set up a district.
Only property owners who are registered voters in Sarasota County would be able to vote in the election.
A simple majority is all that is required in the election to approve the taxing district.
Three property-owner surveys have been conducted within the past seven years to gauge interest in an underground utility project.
Although hard numbers came out of those surveys, those in support of and opposition to the plan interpret the results differently.
The Casey Key Association conducted an opinion survey in 2005, in which 74% of respondents were in favor of putting utilities underground. But opponents told commissioners that 74% could be deceiving, because only about 140 of the Key’s approximately 400 property owners responded to the survey. Of those 140 responses, about 100 supported the project — about one-quarter of all property owners.
Supporters say the voter turnout on that survey is no different than that of most government elections.
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