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Candidates share views on ‘undergrounding’ transmission lines

By Staff | Oct 17, 2009

Editor’s note: Each week, The Breeze will ask candidates for city council their views on an issue of interest to the voters. Each candidate is asked the same question in a phone interview. This week’s question is: How should the city address bringing transmission lines down Del Prado Boulevard through the CRA (Community Redevelopment Agency Downtown)? What are your funding sources for the solution?

Mayor’s race
Incumbent Mayor Jim Burch, a 58-year-old land surveyor, said undergrounding, or burying, the transmission lines is the only option for the city of Cape Coral CRA district.
“As soon as you overhead the transmission lines in the CRA district you are going to kill the growth in the area,” Burch said.
He said people will not have the opportunity to build in the CRA district because the location of the overhead lines would impede construction of the six- to seven-story buildings planned.
Burch said the issue is being addressed, but the city still is waiting for the Lee County Electric Cooperative to come to the table and address the issues related to the transmission lines and the cost of the project.
“LCEC is not recognizing the cost of undergrounding the lines,” Burch said.
John Sullivan, a 66-year-old retired broker/IT consultant, said the city of Cape Coral is in critical need of the transmission lines, which have been in the offing for the last 10 years.
Sullivan said the two lines that are currently coming in are running at 75 percent capacity meaning if one of these “master” lines is lost the other one would not be able to accommodate the load of the pair of them.
“We need that line,” Sullivan said. “We don’t need any more delays because we have been dealing with this for more than a decade.”
He said if that means the transmission lines have to go overhead, then so be it.
“When the CRA comes up with the money we can put it underground later,” Sullivan said.

District 1
Seeking the District 1 seat is Jim Martin and Marty McClain.
Martin, a 77-year-old retired aerospace engineer, said he believes the transmission lines should definitely be placed underground in the CRA district.
“I think it will destroy the CRA and downtown if we put overhead transmission lines up,” he said, adding that he will do anything in his power if elected to eliminate all overhead transmission lines to bring Cape Coral back to an environmentally friendly place.
Martin said he thinks the funding should be contributed by LCEC, the city of Cape Coral and the CRA in the amount of $1.5 million each. Martin added that the Pine Island area in the closing of the line “loop” should contribute as well.
According to LCEC officials, the difference between overhead and underground transmission lines, with the shortest route of 3,800 feet, will cost $4.5 million, he added.
McClain, a 51-year old construction consultant said the city currently is working with a co-op utility supplier that historically does not put transmission lines underground.
“I believe the CRA and LCEC need to spend some time together to work this out,” McClain said.
He said there is a proposed route that the CRA would prefer for the transmission lines, but LCEC needs to come up with a dollar amount that would fall into compliance with the city’s bids.
McClain said the city is going to have to make sure LCEC is 100 percent accountable for any lawsuits and they are going to have to take full responsibility for how the lines are going to run in the CRA.
“Anytime you have a problem with this magnitude and this age there is a conflict,” McClain said.

District 4
Chris Chulakes-Leetz, a 53-year-old USCG-licensed captain, is seeking to unseat the District 4 incumbent, Dolores Bertolini.
“Under current economic conditions the need to address this 10-year long issue ultimately must be reconciled with the need for Lee County Electric Co-op to complete their transmission lines circuit,” Chulakes-Leetz said. “At the current time I believe Lee County Electric Co-op needs to be provided with the ability to do the job they have been trying to do for 10 years at their expense.”
He said not until economic conditions change can the city address “undergrounding the lines throughout all of Cape Coral on an as-able basis.”
“I do not currently feel we are in the financial position to provide the funds for undergrounding, nor do I believe the taxpayers would endorse the rate increases that would be placed upon them for such a project,” Chulakes-Leetz said.
Bertolini, 75, said the council will be addressing the transmission lines at Monday’s meeting where all the “issues and ideas will be coming before us.”
She said it all depends on who is going to pay for the transmission lines to see if the overhead or underground lines will be installed.
“On Monday I will be making the decision of where the route is going,” she said. “I don’t like speculating on how I am going to vote beforehand.”
District 6
Kevin McGrail, a 53-year-old medical technologist, and John Cataldi Jr., a 69-year-old retired police detective, cleared the primary in their quest for the District 6 seat.
McGrail said he does not understand why LCEC does not consider placing transmission lines underground.
“If they did this in any major city they would put them underground as a standard for doing business,” he said. “To state that above ground is their standard here, I think is a ridiculous premise.
“I cannot fathom why underground lines in a commercial district is not considered,” he said. “I believe in commercial areas it should be put underground.”
He said his concern is that LCEC is going to stick the city with an unreasonable cost for placing the transmission lines underground.
“It’s an unreasonable demand for the residents of Cape Coral to be in charge of taking care of the cost to put it underground,” McGrail said.
Cataldi said he believes the transmission lines should be put overhead so it will not cost the citizens any money.
“We don’t have the money to do it underground,” he said, adding that this can be done at a later time. Cataldi said the overhead transmission lines can be taken down once the funds are there to put them underground.
“They need the electric in case there is an outage, so why not just let them put the overhead lines in?” he said, adding that there will be no funding source needed if they are installed that way.
“We need it to have continuity in case of a storm,” Cataldi said. “That loop has to be completed.”
The general election is Tuesday, Nov. 3, with early voting to begin Monday, Oct. 26.
Cape Coral mayor and city council elections are non-partisan and citywide meaning voters registered within the city can cast a ballot in every race, regardless of party affiliation or the district in which they live. Everyone votes in every race.