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Mayor: LCEC holding city ‘hostage’ over power lines

By Staff | Mar 7, 2009

A transmission line on Santa Barbara Boulevard due to be moved as part of that road’s widening could be pushed back as the Lee County Electric Cooperative and the city haggle over the installation of transmission lines in the downtown area.
LCEC has been trying to install transmission lines connecting substations on Everest Parkway and in downtown Cape Coral for the past 10 years, citing issues of reliability and capacity.
In a letter to the city last week, LCEC indicated a transmission line on Santa Barbara that needs to be moved as part of the $18 million road widening project could be delayed if the City Council doesn’t decide on a route to place the lines.
“If the South Cape transmission line is not permitted, LCEC will need to evaluate other alternatives for its transmission system, which may include upgrading one or more transmission lines, including the Santa Barbara line,” the letter reads in part.
Mayor Jim Burch was nonplussed with the tact of the electric company.
“They’re absolutely holding us hostage for one line over the other,” Burch said.
LCEC officials contend the the issue of the two lines are interrelated, and the Santa Barbara line is not being used as leverage.
“That (the lack of a connection to the downtown substation) is going to require us to reengineer the entire system,” LCEC spokesperson Karen Ryan said.
“It wouldn’t make sense to move the transmission line at Santa Barbara and turn around an upgrade it,” she added.
The cost to move the transmission line is $1.8 million, but the cost for upgrading the line is unclear as LCEC would have to redesign its system.
Yet Burch maintains LCEC is hedging on an agreement with the city on the Santa Barbara line.
“Now they’re really reneging on a promise they made to us,” Burch said.
Waiting with bated breath for a solution to the spat is the Cape Coral Community Redevelopment Agency. The CRA has been working with LCEC to put underground lines inside the CRA boundaries, and has committed $1.9 million to that end.
Underground lines, however, cost more than overhead lines, and the city would need to make up the difference, about $6 million, since LCEC pledged to install the overhead lines at no cost.
“I think it is definitely politicizing the issue,” CRA executive director John Jacobsen said. “I don’t see what the Santa Barbara widening has anything to do with the other route,” he added.