Town staff hopes to begin construction on the $50 million project next year.
Longboat Key has been “carved out” of pending state legislation that town officials say could have interfered with plans to bury power lines and hide from sight other utility equipment.
The legislation — House Bill 687 — passed through the Legislature on April 28. If signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott, it would restrict local governments from regulating or prohibiting the placement of small wireless facilities in public rights of way.
Included in the Longboat project are plans to possibly use SmartPoles, which are streetlights with wireless communications gear hidden inside.
In March, the town hired lawyer and lobbyist Dean Cannon of the firm Gray Robinson to oppose the proposed legislation as it was being considered in Tallahassee. Cannon was speaker of the Florida House of Representatives from 2010-2012. The town agreed to a flat rate of $20,000 for the lobbying services.
Town Attorney Maggie Mooney-Portale said Cannon, as well as Gray Robinson’s Joseph Salzverg, “worked tirelessly” to ensure such communities as Longboat Key were specifically exempted from the legislation.
Lawmakers amended the bill to provide an exception for any municipality that:
n is located on a coastal barrier island;
n has fewer than 10,000 residents and a land area of less than five square miles;
n has, before July 1, received referendum approval to issue debt to finance a townwide project to bury its utilities for electricity transmission or distribution.
Along with the Key, the exception also applies to the town of Palm Beach, Mooney-Portale said.
Mooney-Portale added that local delegates, namely Rep. Jim Boyd and Sen. Bill Galvano, deserve recognition.
“They really stepped up in Tallahassee for us and on our behalf,” Mooney-Portale said,.
Mayor Terry Gans commended Mooney-Portale and Town Manager Dave Bullock for taking quick action regarding the legislation.
“Without their efforts, we would have spent the money on undergrounding then had new poles put up,” Gans said. “I appreciate it, and I’m sure the entire town doesn’t know how much they appreciate it, but we all really do.”
Town staff hopes to begin construction on the referendum-approved $50 million project next year. The plan includes moving communication utilities underground, along with power cables. The project is intended to enhance the community’s safety, appearance and protection from storm-related outages and recovery from damage.
Florida Power and Light is preparing to drill under Longboat Pass to replace a “primary voltage feeder’’ in an unrelated project.
At the May 1 Town Commission meeting, commissioners approved staff’s recommendation to issue a $200,000 purchase order to use FPL’s permits and contractor to run a 4-inch conduit under Longboat Pass during the drilling project.
According to town authorities, the project will save the town from “a lengthy permitting and procurement process” for the conduit, which is an essential route for Longboat Key’s fiber optic connection, a major aspect of the town’s underground utilities project.