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Dig it: Underground utilities work cranks up in 2019

Long-anticipated project expected to begin turning over dirt in next few months on Longboat Key.

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  • | 3:10 p.m. January 2, 2019
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Before many of the island's seasonal residents pack up and head north, Longboat Key is expecting to begin burying its utility cables in a long-awaited, $46 million-plus project designed to improve aesthetics, cellular and digital service and street lighting.

In December, the town closed on bond pricing and is expected to begin selling bonds, rated AA-plus, with Longboat residents getting the first opportunity to buy them. 

“There has been a lot of interest,” Town Manager Tom Harmer said in the bond sale, used to finance the project. Property owners will pay back the financing over time, though assessments.

Contract talks have begun with three preferred contractors -- Waterleaf International, Wilco Electrical LLC and Pinpoint Holdings, with each taking responsibility for a portion of the project. Waterleaf is handling the bulk of the streetlight portion, Pinpoint will install the fiber, and Wilco is expected to perform the electrical work.

Final agreements with the contractors is expected in March, with digging to begin shortly after.

“We would like to have an April start for phases one and two,” said James Linkogle, the town’s project manager of the project, which is scheduled to be completed in 2022. 

A long time coming

Around 15 years ago, Longboat leaders became concerned about the town's overhead utilities in a hurricane but were initially put off by the original cost estimate of $20 million from Florida Power & Light, said James Linkogle, the town's project manager.

The next time the issue arose,  under now-retired Town Manager Dave Bullock, the idea of putting the proposal to the voters and managing the project in house.

“If the citizens want it, then we can framework a method of getting it done that is fair and equitable,” Linkogle said. “Then there were the amenities that come along with it like owning the street lights, enhanced cellular connectivity, future wireless capacity. All of these elements became part of the conversation.”

In November 2015, commissioners  authorized the town to borrow up to $25.25 million to fund the Gulf of Mexico portion of the project, an amount that would be paid back by property owners through 30-year assessments. And since the project was approved in two separate referendums — one for Gulf of Mexico Drive properties and the other for neighborhood properties — the funds for each project must be kept separate. Four months later in March 2016, residents voted to authorize Longboat to borrow up to $23.8 on to finance  the neighborhood portion.

Depending on location, existing infrastructure and other factors, the assessments average about $2,000. Neighborhood cost averages are higher or lower, depending on a variety of factors.

The plan

The project, the largest public works project ever under taken by Longboat, is broken into three parts.  

The first part is burying cables and related equipment underground. The second is to install a fiber optic backbone, which allows for smart technology for future connectivity and growth.

The third  part is the installation of  350 street lights.  The streetlights will be wired with equipment and linked to the fiber network to enhance cell phone service and speed data rates. The town must install streetlights because all of the poles they are bolted to now will be gone.

Work will begin on both ends of the island, Phase 1 on the south end and Phase 2 on the north end. Work will close in on the central portion of the island by 2022. “Our goal is to meet in the middle,” Harmer said.

Town residents should not encounter any inconvenience from the project, Linkogle said.

“You will see crews coming out with underground boring machines,” he said. “These machines can be four to six feet tall. When it comes time for the wires to come down, then you will see bucket trucks.”

“None of the aerial stuff will come down until everyone is connected.”

“It won’t be any worse than what is going on at Emerald Harbor,” said Linkogle, referring to the subdivision's $3 million water and sewer pipe upgrades.

Getting the word out

Residents will experience some power outages that should last no more than two hours.

“Hopefully the contractor will give us notice ahead of time on the anticipated days,” Linkogle said. “The town is very concerned about that. We want to make is as easy as possible for residents and have little disruption in service.”

Linkogle and Public Works Director Isaac Brownman said the town plans on using its web site and social media such as Facebook and Twitter to keep residents up to date on the work.

“I’ll probably be knocking on some doors, too,” Linkogle said.


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