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Council moves forward with UEP in Southwest 6/7; Work authorization gets green light

By Staff | Sep 16, 2008

After a summer’s worth of delays and deadlocks, it looks like the utility expansion project in Cape Coral’s Southwest 6/7 area is ready to move forward.

In a contentious 4-3 vote, the city council passed a work authorization Monday for the project with a guaranteed maximum price of $80.6 million.

“It would authorize us to get going with some of the administrative stuff,” said Larry Laws, project manager with MWH, the company overseeing the project to bring potable water, irrigation and sewer utilities to customers throughout the Cape. “It doesn’t allow us to buy any materials.”

Councilmember Tim Day was the swing vote in the decision, saying he wanted to move forward with the project to avoid punishing current customers.

“We’ve invested very significant money into 6/7 — over $6 million — and the current ratepayers could be looking at large increases,” Day said.

He added that if the project stalled, those already using the utilities could face increases of up to 25 percent.

The project is a source of controversy among council members and residents alike, with some saying large assessments in a dismal economy will push people who are struggling over the edge.

“As anyone who sees the financial markets going down … now is not the right time,” said Charlene Cambell, a resident of the 6/7 area, in reference to the news of investment giant Lehman Brothers’ filing for bankruptcy Monday.

“Everybody in Cape Coral should’ve been charged the same. It just doesn’t seem fair and equitable,” she added.

Day was one of four council members who voted against moving forward last month in a deadlocked vote that stalled progress in the project.

Other members of the council who voted down the project in the earlier vote voiced their disapproval Monday.

“I just don’t want to charge people more than I feel like we have to,” said Mayor Eric Feichthaler.

The mayor has consistently called for a $1,000 reduction in impact fees for the 6/7 area, which currently stands at $6,750, and a $500 reduction in assessments, which currently average $10,500.

Councilmember Pete Brandt echoed Campbell’s statement that residents should not be hit with more payments in the current harsh economic times.

“If the city of Cape Coral gets the reputation of driving people out of their homes … it’s going to take us a lot longer to recover,” Brandt said. “I think this is the wrong time to continue with this.”

Councilmember Dolores Bertolini took umbrage with Brandt’s comment about the city’s reputation.

“The reputation is being put out there by people who are alluding to, that we’re not doing the right thing. It’s not the reputation of Cape Coral that’s hurting people, it’s the economy,” Bertolini said.

The project’s supporters pointed to deferred payment plans offered by the city as evidence the project would not force people into foreclosure.

“I don’t see people being put out of their house because of this program because of the deferred payments,” said Councilmember Jim Burch.

An initial resolution regarding the 6/7 project area will now come before the council Monday, with an Oct. 16 homeowner meeting and a final resolution to go before council Oct. 27 contingent on that vote.

Councilmembers Day, Burch, Bertolini and Derrick Donnell voted for the project; Feichthaler, Brandt and Councilmember Bill Deile voted against.

Councilmember Eric Grill was absent.