Skip to main content
Photos by Dex Honea
The new poles: Notice its girth versus the bench — huge.
Longboat Key Wednesday, Jun. 25, 2014 3 years ago

Our View


When you know your company’s mainframe computer is outmoded and needs replacing, and when you know the world is shifting to storing data in the more-efficient “cloud,” you most likely wouldn’t invest precious dollars in a similar, albeit larger mainframe computer — regardless of how reliable or inexpensive it is.

Why buy old technology? Why make your company less valuable?

When you know your 120,000-mile, 5-year-old car needs major engine repair, you always debate: Should I put good money after bad or buy new?

You know what happens: Spending less on the engine parts turns out to be just the downpayment on what seems to be an unending stream of throwing more and more money into a car whose value declines by the day while headaches and costs for you grow by the day.

Those two scenarios remind us of the utility-pole debate on Longboat Key: whether the town should proceed with replacing its existing above-ground utility poles with taller, fatter, uglier poles or switch to underground wiring.

Should it go with the ugly, historical, less costly means of electrical transmission that does nothing to differentiate your town? Or go with the more expensive underground electrical wiring that enhances the aesthetics and thus the value of the town?

Go with the old mainframe? Or stay up to date with changing technology?

For the town commissioners, the issue is over. They have voted on the matter three times since May, and three times they have rejected even considering conducting a study to determine the costs and feasibility of underground cables.

Commissioners have given Florida Power & Light Co. the approval to begin installing the 41-foot (versus 38-foot) poles in August.

Only two commissioners — Lynn Larson and Pat Zunz — have voted steadfastly in favor of researching the underground cables. Their counterparts for the most part have rejected burying the wires because of their cost and other costs facing the town.

As Mayor Jim Brown told underground-cable advocate, resident Bob Gault:

“The commission is struggling with the budget and long-term plans for infrastructure items with costs in the millions not to mention the $27 million to $33 million for the unfunded pension costs.

“These huge costs that have to be considered in the near future will greatly impact the decision of the voters when they are informed with their realities. The under grounding of the utilities cannot be considered in isolation.”

But as Gault argues in his “My View” column on page 9A, at least give residents a better opportunity to weigh the options. Gault contends Longboat taxpayers were not sufficiently engaged in the issue when commissioners addressed it — largely because many of the Key’s property owners/taxpayers had already flown back north.

“… Making important decisions like this with two-thirds of our folks gone for the summer is not a good and fair process,” Gault told Brown in an email.

Gault went on to make “one more plea to allow further discussion on the pros and cons of burying GMD utilities with time to gather the facts to present to your constituents. As you know, this has long-term impact … ”

Gault is right. Sure, the town faces some heavy expenses — unfunded pension liabilities and beach maintenance. But what if the snowbirds return in October and discover they hate the look of the taller, fatter utility poles? They’ll be stuck with them — without having been given sufficient opportunity to express their views. Done.

To an extent, this situation reminds us of one of the debates residents and taxpayers had in the late 1990s over whether to build a new community center in Joan M. Durante Park. To gauge public opinion, the town conducted a straw poll — giving residents the opportunity to be heard. They spoke, all right — overwhelmingly rejecting the idea. But at least residents had the opportunity to speak.

As it stands, FPL is poised to begin replacing the utility poles in August on the south end at Country Club Shores. Between now and then there are two Town Commission meetings at which commissioners could vote to delay FPL’s pole replacements and opt for a study — June 30 or July 7 — before adjourning for two months.

Longboaters have survived for decades through hurricane seasons and tropical storms with rickety utility poles. One more season won’t hurt if it means definitively finding out whether Longboaters prefer above- or below-ground utility lines.

Where there is a will, there is a way.

+ How Palm Beach does it
The following are excerpts from the Dec. 4, 2013, Palm Beach Daily News:
A dormant desire to bury utility lines throughout the town may yet see the light of day — one neighborhood at a time.

Deputy Town Manager Tom Bradford brightened Tuesday’s meeting of the Town Council’s Ordinances, Rules and Standards Committee with news that North End residents have inundated the town with requests to have power, cable and phone lines buried on their respective streets.

Their interest appears to have been sparked by two neighborhood utility burial projects, on Nightingale Trail and La Puerta Way, and on East Inlet Drive, Bradford said. The town is administering the projects, which are in the planning stages. The town will front the money, and property owners will reimburse it through assessments on their tax bills over 10 years.

Bradford suggested the town consider expanding the project to include the entire upper portion of the North End.

“We feel confident that there is going to be a majority of people north of the country club that will want to do this,” Bradford told the committee.

For the town to administer a utility burial, the council has said that at least 67% of owners on the street or area in question must be in support.

But process of passing around a petition would be cumbersome for the upper North End, so Bradford said he’s looking into methods other municipalities have used to measure support for burying lines over larger areas.

Over the years, many town officials and residents have said they want the lines buried for aesthetic reasons and to reduce the frequency of power failures caused by conflicts between overhead lines and wind and trees.

Town staff and a previous council spent several years sorting through the logistics of crafting a town-wide plan before twice pulling the plug on a voter referendum, most recently in 2007. Voters would have been asked to approve a bond issue of nearly $90 million to finance a 10-year plan to bury all power, cable and phone lines in town. The council said that was too much money.

But the council left open the door to a grassroots approach, in which residents of individual streets or neighborhoods initiate projects, with town assistance.

It appears to be working. A utility burial at Lake Towers is moving into the final design stage. Another, on Everglades Island, was completed in early October. The 55 properties paid an average of $12,475. The size of the property is the most important factor in determining how much each owner pays.

Everglades owners were eligible for a 25% discount from FPL because it was a government-run project and it’s a small island, Bradford said. But others can take advantage of the FPL discount, too; if a project is administered by the town, and is at least three lineal miles long, it is eligible.

“This has been the goal of the town going back for years,” committee member Bill Diamond said. “We never were able to come up with the wherewithal to make it work. But now we have a process that works.”


Related Stories