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Town's underground utilities project gets ready to dig

Work on east side of Gulf of Mexico Drive isn't part of voter-approved project but also involves running underground cables.

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  • | 11:28 a.m. June 10, 2019
  • Longboat Key
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For now, forget about streetlights, pole heights, small-cell towers and the hubbub surrounding them since early this year.

They’re all still in the works, mind you, as part of a public-private partnership, and still part of the town’s wide-ranging underground utilities and communications project designed to ultimately improve aesthetics, reliability and cell reception.

But the actual work to replace overhead cables, build a town-wide fiber-optic backbone and underground power-distribution system, and remove poles from Gulf of Mexico Drive and the neighborhoods is getting closer.

With approval of a master-services agreement with Wilco Electrical LLC, a Miami-based utilities contractor, the town is likely weeks away from initiation of the work, which will start with Phase 1 on the south end of the island. The idea is to converge on the middle of the island with Phases 3, 4 and 5 by 2022, though design of the middle phases by FPL is ongoing. 

This is separate from a deal with Waterleaf International LLC, a company with which the town is working to build a small cell network on the island and to install a series of smart-streetlights.

“We are in a position that we would prefer to move forward with some of the undergrounding and then pull in some of the P3 (public-private partnership) work as we go forward,” Town Manager Tom Harmer told town commissioners last week.

In November 2015, voters 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 because 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, voters authorized Longboat to borrow up to $23.8 million for the neighborhood portion.

Wilco is tasked with building out the underground power and fiber-optic data backbone as spelled out in the $30 million master services agreement.

Wilco initially will begin by managing a staging area near Cortez Village for delivery and disbursement of project equipment and materials. Project Manager James Linkogle said Florida Power & Light could begin delivering the first of those materials two to three weeks after Wilco gives the OK. And that could happen even sooner. From there, the project would begin.

Rolls of plastic tubing, known as conduit, goes in first. Then cables go inside the tubes. This work along GMD, though, is not part of the town's project.
Rolls of plastic tubing, known as conduit, goes in first. Then cables go inside the tubes. This work along GMD, though, is not part of the town's project.

“As soon as he receives material and as soon as he’s ready to go out there and work along Gulf of Mexico Drive, he can,” he said, adding permits to work in the Florida Department of Transportation right of way were received in early June.

The small-cell network and street light portion of the project fall within Waterleaf’s domain; Wilco will be first to break ground with the underground construction.

Public Works Director Isaac Brownman said as phases of underground cable work are completed and checked, and connections are made to homes and businesses, underground powerlines will be energized by Florida Power & Light, and Wilco will move on to the next phase.

Poles and other overhead equipment, which are the property of FPL, will come down after the utility company is satisfied all is well with the installation.

“In fact, FPL won’t remove the poles until they know the system is functioning reliably,” Brownman said.

“So we’ll be up and running,” Commissioner Mike Haycroft said.

“We’ll be down and running,” Mayor George Spoll said.

“Underground and running,” Brownman said.


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