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LCEC suggests current service to Sanibel is not acceptable

By Staff | Jun 2, 2010

Mayor Kevin Ruane, left, presents an award recognizing the 10th anniversary of Sanibel Beautification, Inc. as well as their receiving an Award of Merit from the Florida Native Plant Society.

During Tuesday’s City Council meeting, representatives from the Lee County Electric Cooperative (LCEC) explained that while bringing their utility to the citizens of Sanibel may be challenging, they are not pleased with the current level of service they are providing.

Dennie Hamilton, CEO and Executive Vice President of LCEC, informed the council that several power outages over the past year and a half here on the island have caused the service provider to look into taking corrective measures.

"Minor events cause just as much disruption, just as much aggravation as major events," said Hamilton, who noted that LCEC provides electricity to nearly 11,00 customer on Sanibel.

In 2009, island customers experienced a total of 31.9 minutes of major power outages — calculated as total time disruption of affected customers divided by the total number of customers on Sanibel — most of which taking place during the latter part of the year. Thus far in 2010, outages have been caused by equipment failure as well as a boat striking the transformer line in San Carlos Bay.

According to Hamilton, the problems have worsened, causing LCEC to investigate their maintenance and restoration procedures. His corrective action plan includes:

• Installing cameras along the water crossings

• Acceleration of the company’s tree trimming policy

• Increasing the frequency of visual inspections of equipment

• Installing automated corrective devices

• Improving overall communications

• Hiring an independent consultant and following the findings of their report

"We don’t find the current level of service acceptable," Hamilton told the council. "We will be working to correct those problems."

Hamilton also said that he will make sure that LCEC keeps the council updated as the utility makes improvements to its infrastructure and policies.

"I remember the days living on Sanibel when there were power outages almost on a nightly basis," said Jim Jennings. "I appreciate your efforts to make sure that isn’t happening."

Mayor Kevin Ruane asked Hamilton to provide a timeline detailing when each aspect of their corrective action plan takes place.

"We are taking action as we speak," said Hamilton. "There are always going to be outages … our intent is to work as quickly as we can to bring the level of service to where we expect it to be."

In other business, Vice Mayor Mick Denham informed his fellow council members the status of the high volume releases coming down the Caloosahatchee River from Lake Okeechobee.

Denham explained that if people have noticed a black or darkened tint to the waters surrounding Sanibel, that it has been caused by the water releases being supervised by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD).

A plan to find additional water storage facilities five years ago has still not been accomplished, Denham explained before adding, "I dropped the ball by not following through." He noted that in the next few days, he will meet with the SFWMD to talk about establishing a timeline for working towards the goal of creating water storage sites around Lake Okeechobee so future high volume releases with damaging nutrients won’t be necessary.

Denham also doubts that the proposed purchase of U.S. Sugar property will ever come to fruition. That land was being eyed for possible water storage sites.

"I think that’s a real tragedy, but that’s the way it is," he said. "We are at the mercy of whatever the Corps wants to do."

In addition, the council approved the appointment of Richard W. Arnold to the city’s Contractors Review Board, pending verification of his resident status.