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Funding plan found for CRA underground lines

By Staff | Apr 12, 2010

The CRA is going underground after all.
Cape Coral City Council voted to approve a funding mechanism Monday night that will bury transmission lines along Southeast 46th Lane.
The move brings to a close over 10 years of often contentious struggle between the city, the Lee County Electric Cooperative and residents, who’ve fought over who should pay for the project.
The city will use an allocation of commercial paper, in the $4.5 – 5 million range, to bury the lines, which the Community Redevelopment Agency will then make payments back to the city of $400,000 a year for 15 years, paying the debt service first.
District 4 Councilmember Chris Chulakes-Leetz said funding the project now would save the city money in the long run, retaining property values and staving off a litany of lawsuits in the district.
“If we don’t bury the lines, we’re going to bury the CRA,” he said. “We might as well sunset the CRA because nothing to develop in that part of town.”
LCEC representative Rick Fuson said burying the lines will put customers at risk for a power outage an additional 10 – 19 months.
LCEC has maintained that new lines — overhead or underground — were essential to provide reliable service.
The underground lines will eventually provide that reliability, but customers will have to wait a little longer for it.
“If a outage occurs those people are at risk,” Fuson said.
The Community Redevelopment Agency has $1.9 million in reserves to commit to the project.
CRA officials have said previously said they would use that cash if needed. They said the same again Monday night, but hope to retain some of those funds for other projects, like the golf course.
CRA Chairman Don Heisler said the district has lost the ability to develop over the years because of the constant struggle, and while he wasn’t entirely comfortable with the funding with the suggested funding mechanism, he’s happy the issue is finally getting buried.
“Do I absolutely want to do it this way? No. But somebody has to pay for it,” Heisler said.
Mayor John Sullivan suggested that LCEC was breaking its franchise agreement by not solely paying for the undergrounding itself.
He asked the city attorney to pursue that question, but still voted to support the commercial paper mechanism suggested by city staff.
“I don’t think we should pay a red cent for this,” Sullivan said.
LCEC will next bring two agreements forth, the first being a relocation agreement, then a construction agreement. If approved by City Council, a construction agreement will be drafted and the project will then go out for bid.
The motion was unanimously passed to move forward with the underground funding mechanism.