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City Council discusses utility issues

By Staff | Mar 17, 2015

Public utilities were the hot topic discussions at Monday’s City Council meeting as the members continue their fight against a Florida House bill seeking to force local government to pay the cost of utility equipment relocations.

Council also voted to continue negotiations of an interlocal agreement with the Florida Governmental Utility Authority (FGUA) in which the city would construct a pipeline to receive reclaimed water for irrigation use in Northeast Cape.

City Manager John Szerlag urged council members to attend a House committee meeting on Monday on the utility relocation issue. Szerlag went to Tallahassee once before trying to encourage lawmakers to reject the bill and will be there again on Monday.

“It still has to go through several committee meetings,” Szerlag said. “State representatives are asking us to show 10 Florida municipalities that had road widening projects where utility companies bore the cost.”

That sparked a searing comment from Councilmember Jim Burch, saying, “The law says a city can be reimbursed for the cost of relocation of utilities. Asking for 10 examples is symbolic of an issue where the law is being ignored. State officials want to supersede those laws. The utility companies make profits from that equipment that sits on city easement property so they should bear the cost of relocating them.”

In the case of Cape Coral’s two most recent road widening projects on the Del Prado Extension and Pine Island Road, relocating utility equipment would have cost the city more than $4 million.

Staff brought a resolution before council amending the interlocal agreement asking FGUA to share 50/50 the cost of a pipeline construction from North Fort Myers along Del Prado Extension to bring reclaimed water service to that area and identify the preferred route for the pipeline. Other amendments seek to extend the term of the agreement and give the city a discount rate significantly better than the 10 percent proposed by FGUA.

“We really don’t need the water right now,” said Burch. “If we take the water we actually are doing you (FGUA) a favor. For me, I think we should get the water for nothing. We will construct the pipeline and (FGUA) won’t have to drill a deep injection well costing $6 million, and your water rates won’t have to go up.”

FGUA is facing a March 31 deadline imposed by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to build the well or find another way to meet their peak disposal needs.

Instead of approving the resolution, the city indicated a willingness to continue negotiating the agreement to be more in the city’s favor and bring the matter back before council in two weeks once the FGUA board has a chance to vote on the city’s proposed changes.

“The first question that needs answering is if this council wants to enter into an agreement with FGUA,” said Burch. “If yes, then maybe we can get the county to help persuade the DEP to extend its deadline.”

Council was presented with an ordinance amending the Land Use and Development Regulations to add permitted and special exception uses to the Institutional District designation. The proposal adds 20 permitted uses and six exception uses. The changes would permit such uses as private parks, assisted living centers, child care, hospice care, schools and shelters.

SInce it was the first of two public hearings, no vote was taken. The final hearing on the changes was set for March 30.

If approved, the measure helps pave the way for projects like a Humane Society complex and the Kayak Club’s training facility in the Cape.

Council unanimously approved a renewal of its contract with Breeze Newspapers to continue printing the city newsletter “On The Move.” The city mails the newsletter to every residence and business quarterly. It costs the city $75,000 per year to print and mail the newsletter.

The next regular council meeting is next Monday at 4:30 p.m. at City Hall.