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Country Club Shores resident Matthew Mason and Commissioner Lynn Larson
Longboat Key Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2016 3 years ago

Town Talk: Teen digs into undergrounding project

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One of Longboat Key’s youngest citizens tackles one of Longboat Key’s most pressing issues to gain his Eagle Scout merit badge.
by: Kurt Schultheis Senior Editor

Just how important is burying Longboat Key’s power lines and utilities?

It’s important enough that even one of Longboat Key’s youngest residents called a meeting with his commissioner to learn more about it.

Country Club Shores resident Matthew Mason, 15, recently emailed his commissioner and neighbor, Lynn Larson, to ask for a meeting to learn more about burying power lines along Gulf of Mexico Drive and a neighborhood and side streets project that will go before voters in March.

Matthew can’t yet vote. But as a Life Scout with Boy Scout Troop 23, he’s working on a few merit badges required for the rank of Eagle Scout. To earn his Community Merit badge, Matthew had to choose an issue that’s important to the citizens of his community and learn how young people can help.

Even at 15, Matthew knows that Longboaters are discussing no issue more with more passion than burying town’s power lines. In fact, I would wager that discussion of the subject is more heated than for any other town issue since I began covering Longboat Key in 2006 — even the past Longboat Key Club’s proposed $400 million Islandside project.

Matthew and Larson met in December in the town commissioner office.

The Pine View School ninth-grader’s first question:

“If voters approve the neighborhood funding project, will the neighborhood project happen at the same time as the Gulf of Mexico Drive undergrounding project that voters already approved? (Yes, it will overlap to save on construction costs.)

Larson admitted to her young constituent that she has concerns about the referendum.

“I’m not sure the voters will approve it,” she said. “Property owners that already have underground lines may not want to pay any percentage of this.”

She also worried that a judge might not validate a bond that has a Key-wide funding split.

“If there’s a funding formula that has everyone paying a portion, the judge could very well question whether there’s a benefit for every property owner when many properties already have utilities underground,” Larson said.

The funding formula stuff was a bit complicated for a ninth-grader. (It’s complicated even for commissioners.) 

But I’d say he asked his questions like a pro, wrapping up his hour-long interview with this question: “What can young people like me do to stay involved in our town government?”

Larson told Matthew what she tells everyone:

“Get educated, informed, advocate and come to our meetings so you have an educated opinion before you vote.”

Then, Larson asked Matthew if he had questions about any other Key issues bothering him. Matthew’s question was about something that’s clearly perplexing to Longboaters, no matter what their age.

“I want to know why the new crosswalks have so many signs and why some of them have you crossing from the sidewalk right into bushes,” Matthew said.

We wish the Florida Department of Transportation had the answer too, Matthew.

Larson waved her arms in frustration, trying diplomatically to explain that state bureaucracy prevented the Town Commission from dictating where the crosswalks are located.

Larson said she was impressed with Matthew’s questions.

“He’s a future commission candidate for sure,” she said.

Just make sure you get a paying job before you run for the commission, Matthew.

You need more to make a living on than the occasional pat on the back, the more frequent rants, and cookies that these commissioners make each year for doing a yeoman’s job.

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