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LCEC files appeal over rebuild permitting

By Staff | Sep 14, 2015

LCEC has filed an administrative appeal with the city of Cape Coral over what utility officials say are unreasonable conditions placed upon project permits for a project LCEC hopes will provide better service to the islands.

The electric cooperative, which filed the appeal Friday, is looking to move forward on a transmission line rebuild LCEC maintains will improve service to more than 18,000 customers on Pine, Sanibel, Captiva, North Captiva, and Useppa islands, and Cabbage Key. The line is the sole source of power for those communities, utility officials said.

Karen Ryan, LCEC spokesperson, said Monday requirements relating to city’s potential municipalization of electric service will delay the rebuild of the line, which is between 30 and 40 years old.

“We’ve had plans to rebuild that line, taking the same route because it’s cheaper. It’s an older line where the elements are not good to it,” Ryan said.

Ryan said LCEC applied for a right-of-way permit for the project spanning Matlacha Pass. The city approved the permit, and later rescinded it, adding a requirement that LCEC agree that the value of the project will not be included in the price the city would pay should it opt to take over utility services rather than renew the expiring franchise.

“They rescinded the permit the next day and put these conditions on it. They said if the city takes over the utility, the city wouldn’t be responsible for the value of that line,” Ryan said. “It puts us in a bad situation because we have to choose between rebuilding that line or put our members at financial risk.”

“This is an impossible condition to accept because it forces us to choose between putting our service reliability at risk by delaying the project, or putting our members at financial risk should the city choose to take over electric service,” said LCEC CEO Dennie Hamilton in a statement.

Hamilton said the transmission line is reaching the end of its planned service life, and must be replaced. The rebuild project has been part of LCEC’s development plans for several years.

LCEC will seek an opportunity to present before the Cape Coral City Council, which will decide whether to approve or deny the appeal.

Ryan said she hopes the appeal will be listened to carefully by the council, considering the sometimes contentious issues the entities have dealt with recently, including the possible municipalization of electricity as well as the city winning a $2.7 million settlement in a lawsuit.

“We’re hoping we have the opportunity to explain with photos and maps so they can make the decision and understand where we’re coming from,” Ryan said, adding that if this fails, litigation may be an option.

“We can pursue that route, but it depends on how the hearing goes because hopefully it will be a two-way conversation and maybe they’ll say something that decides it for us,” Ryan said. “Maybe they’ll say ‘Oh, OK, we see now.'”

LCEC said it reviewed several rebuild options prior to permitting and chose the existing Matlacha Pass route based on cost, environmental impact and timeline considerations.

In 2006, LCEC began to work on securing permits from the Army Corp of Engineers and Department of Environmental Protection. Permits have been approved by these agencies as well as the Coast Guard, Ryan said.

They said three poles had to be replaced and put into the spreader canal, which would require a right-of-way permit, Ryan said.

The city was not prepared to make a statement on the matter Monday afternoon.