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UEP: Exercise in futility?

By Staff | Nov 10, 2008

In August, a deadlocked 4-4 vote of Cape Coral city councilmembers halted progress on a project to bring potable water, irrigation, and sewer utilities to the Southwest 6/7 area.

Councilmember Tim Day changed his position on the project in September, allowing the project to move forward. A final vote held Monday was supposed to be the final one before construction began, but Councilmember Eric Grill wavered in his support, changing his vote and casting 6/7 into limbo again.

Grill said he changed his vote over Councilmember Jim Burch’s failure to reveal how much his company, DRMP, made in design work for 6/7. Burch said his company had done work for 6/7 before he took office but did not specify the $339,000 amount that was contracted.

Burch said Grill’s vote has more to do with the upcoming replacement of Mayor Eric Feichthaler than the utilities expansion project.

“I think he certainly has an agenda in mind. He’s attacked Councilman Deile, he’s attacked Councilmember Bertolini, and now he’s attacked me,” Burch said. In addition to Burch, Councilmembers Dolores Bertolini and Bill Deile have applied to replace Feichthaler when he resigns Nov. 17.

Grill has stated in council meetings he would like to see someone not on the dais be appointed as mayor, but also said his vote on the UEP had nothing to do with the mayor’s seat.

“I would say they are absolute idiots for trying to assume something,” Grill said of those who questioned his vote.

After the vote Monday, Grill said he would have voted in favor of the project had Burch fully revealed his involvement, but now is seeking out more information about how the average $17,000 in assessments and fees will affect homeowners in 6/7.

“Just about every day on the news the economy gets worse. Back (in the summer) it wasn’t as big an impact, but now it is,” Grill said.

Grill will hold a town hall meeting Wednesday on the UEP from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. in Council chambers. He also said he would like to see a real estate professional conduct a study on how the fees could affect foreclosure rates in 6/7.

Burch and Grill did find some common ground on the 10-year deferred payment option made available to homeowners in 6/7.

“On the outset the deferrment looks like a good program. By the time the deferrment payoff would come people would be in better shape,” Grill said.

Burch agreed the deferrment would give the struggling economy time to rebound.

“People are not going to to lose their home over the UEP,” Burch said.

Council’s flip-flop on the 6/7 project means the company overseeing the project, MWH, and its subcontractors must adjust to the stoppage.

The work authorization for the project was approved in September, but Grill’s vote Monday prevented construction from beginning Tuesday.

“When they approved the work authorization the subcontractors started to make some plans, they hired people, they bought materials. (The vote) was quite a shock to them,” said MWH project manager Larry Laws.

Laws indicated halting the $80 million project would hurt the local economy.

“That’s $80 million that would’ve been circulating in the economy. That’s over 300 jobs that would’ve been created. There’s a ripple effect here — the construction workers, they eat lunch here, they buy gas here,” Laws said.

Grill said he didn’t want to stop the project altogether, but move it forward in a way amenable to 6/7 residents.

“My vote wasn’t a vote to halt the UEP,” Grill said.

The question now is how utilities will be installed in the area. A proposal to bring in potable water first, as proposed for the North 1-8 region, was floated during Monday’s meeting.

“We have to decide do we want to go want to go water only or all three (utilities) at once,” Grill said.

“I’m willing to listen to anything, but I’m not real, real warm to water first in that particular part of the Cape,” Burch said.

Laws said MWH is willing to work with the Council on the project if they elect to put in water first, but there will be less of an impact on the area if all three are put in at once.

“As always we’re willing to do whatever the Council asks. The reason 6/7 makes sense to do all three is because there is the density there,” Laws said.