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An oversight and supply chain issues delay underground utility project

The team working on the underground utility project recently realized existing underground transformers need to be replaced. Due to supply chain issues, this pushes the project back about six months.

The town's underground utility project has been significantly delayed, with an estimated total completion estimated around January 2024.
The town's underground utility project has been significantly delayed, with an estimated total completion estimated around January 2024.
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A roadblock found nearly three weeks ago in the town’s underground utility project will delay the project an estimated six months. Representatives from the project team gave an estimated completion date of January 2024 at the latest. 

The delay for the remaining phases for Longboat Key’s underground utility project are due to an oversight by Florida Power & Light and a supply chain issue. Longboat Key embarked on this project in July 2019, and Public Works Director Isaac Brownman acknowledged the process has been strenuous. 

“The whole project team recognizes that there’s a lot of fatigue on the undergrounding project, everybody’s ready to get it done,” Brownman said. “And I want to assure everyone we’re all driving towards the same goal: to get the job done.” 

The project splits the island into four phases. Phase 1 was officially completed with Phase 2 nearly complete. Phases 2, 3 and 4 already had some underground utility transformers, and the team assumed those could be used. About three weeks ago, while Wilco Electrical was opening the existing underground transformers, it realized they would not be compatible with the new project. It wouldn’t simply be “plug and play,” Brownman explained. 

Now, the company must order and then replace those transformers before the project can be completed. The nine transformers needed in Phase 2 have already been ordered and are on the way. There are 11 needed in Phase 3 and 13 in Phase 4. Those transformers, due to a supply chain issue, will not be delivered for an estimated six months. 

In total, the replacements will require an additional $300,000 to $500,000, which will not be at the town’s expense. 

“FPL acknowledges this should have been caught on the initial design, so they’re going to eat the cost of the equipment and provide it to the town without change,” Brownman said. 

Phase 2 is the most complicated phase with the most connections and conversions, according to Brownman. The transformers necessary for this phase are on the way, and the phase is anticipated to wrap up in July or early August. 

As for positive updates presented at the June 30 commission meeting, the department said 75% of all easements have been recorded, with the rest being sent out. Additionally, no substantial contingency funds were needed in Phases 1 and 2, and the town doesn't anticipate the project will go over budget as it is currently under budget. 

Mayor Ken Schneier and commissioners shared concerns about the fact that the town will still have overhead power in place during peak hurricane season this summer, whereas before the delay the overhead lines would have been removed by August. 

Commissioner BJ Bishop expressed her disappointment with FPL “in almost every phase of this project.” 

“I can’t tell you how disappointed I am yet again in Florida Power and Light,” Bishop said. “It seems like if anybody should know about transformers and what they need and when they need them, it would be the people that provide power for a living.” 

Hau Tran is the project manager for overhead to underground conversions for the entire state and is overseeing the project on behalf of FPL. He said this project is a high priority for FPL. When asked by Town Manager Howard Tipton if everything else has been checked to prevent more setbacks, Tran said more setbacks weren’t likely. 

“I can’t guarantee that we won’t have any more setbacks, but transformers are really the end of the line,” Tran said. “I don’t foresee anything, but I can’t guarantee that there won’t be.”

Brownman said other aspects of the project will still continue, such as the sequencing necessary to convert everything. That part will be sorted out before the transformers arrive, he said, so when they do arrive it won’t be long until the project is officially complete. 



Carter Weinhofer

Carter Weinhofer is the Longboat Key news reporter for the Observer. Originally from a small town in Pennsylvania, he moved to St. Petersburg to attend Eckerd College until graduating in 2023. During his entire undergraduate career, he worked at the student newspaper, The Current, holding positions from science reporter to editor-in-chief.

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