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Power struggle: Overhead lines vs undergrounding

By Staff | Mar 21, 2009

The vote to place overheard transmission lines along 47th Terrace by the Cape Coral City Council earlier this month was a shock to the Cape Coral Community Redevelopment Agency’s system.
The Lee County Electrical Cooperative first began looking at connecting the substation on Everest Parkway just south of the Midpoint Bridge to a substation on 47th Terrace in the CRA 10 years ago.
LCEC’s forte is installing overhead lines, but the CRA has consistently called for the placement of underground lines within its borders, contending that overhead lines would prevent the kind of vertical development they are trying to attract to the downtown.
The CRA and LCEC worked in tandem for several years to find a compromise solution with various routes suggested, but LCEC broke off from those talks and recommended the route down 47th Terrace.
“We were really taken aback by that (vote),” CRA executive director John Jacobsen said.
LCEC officials, however, say the route on 47th should come as no surprise to the CRA.
“I’ve been working on this project from day one,” LCEC executive Trish Lassiter said.
“This was one of the three original identified routes,” she said.
Jacobsen counters that in the most recent meetings over the project, the 47th Terrace route was not in the picture. He will petition the City Council Monday to reconsider its vote on the overhead transmission lines route.
Mayor Jim Burch, who voted against the overhead lines in the 6-2 council decision, supports rethinking the vote altogether and said LCEC’s commitment to the city is lacking.
“We took the worst decision we could possibly take,” Burch said.
The approved route begins at Everest Parkway, goes down Del Prado Boulevard to Southeast 47th Terrace to the substation.
LCEC maintains the lines connecting the substations are needed to prevent lengthy outages when service is interrupted due to a breakdown in the existing transmission lines. The southeast Cape area is the only place in the city not served by a “loop” system, where electric service can be rerouted if power goes down somewhere else in the system.
The capacity of the overall system is another justification for the lines. Lassiter said that transmission lines along Santa Barbara Boulevard and Agualinda Boulevard are close to being overloaded.
“If one of those lines goes down, 28 percent of customers in Cape Coral would be without power,” Lassiter said.
Already a difficult issue, the problem has been compounded by fiscal constraints on all parties imposed by the economic crisis.
LCEC will install overhead lines at no cost to the city, but asks for the CRA or the city to pay the difference between overhead lines and the more expensive underground lines if underground lines are approved. Various bids solicited by LCEC show that difference between $4 million and $6 million, depending on the route and the length of the underground lines.
The CRA committed $1.9 million towards undergrounding the lines in the downtown, but the city is unlikely to pick up the remaining tab.
Facing an estimated 35 percent drop in property values next year, council members are currently trying to cut $10 million from the budget.
Meanwhile, one developer with plans for a $180 million project along 47th Terrace publicly stated he would scrap the project if the overhead lines are installed.
“If those poles go down, I’m not going to build,” Robbie Lee of Island Development told CRA board members during their meeting Tuesday.
His plans include a six-story parking garage topped by high-rise condos, with the overall project spanning the entire block between Southeast 8th Court and Southeast 9th Place, bordered by 47th Terrace on the north and Cape Coral Parkway on the south.
Lassiter said the lines can still go underground — if the CRA is willing to pay for it.
“They could go out for a bond and pay for it. If they really have all these projects that are coming though, they can use TIF (tax increment funds) to pay for it that way,” Lassiter said.
City Councilmembers will take up the issue Monday after the petition from the CRA to reconsider the route down 47th Terrace.
The meeting begins at 4:30 p.m. at city hall.