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Cape, LCEC, to meet concerning permit appeal

By Staff | Sep 15, 2015

The city of Cape Coral and LCEC officials will meet next week in hope of resolving an appeal over permitting for a line rebuild to serve the county’s island communities.

The meeting, confirmed by both parties, has been set for Wednesday, Sept. 23, officials said Tuesday.

City Manager John Szerlag contacted LCEC Chief Executive Officer Dennie Hamilton to set up the meeting to hear the utility’s concerns on the city’s timeline and requirements for issuing an issued, then withdrawn, right-of-way permit.

“In the interest of good faith resolution, this is the appropriate process for Mr. Hamilton to share his concerns. Should Mr. Hamilton disagree with this position, the next step would be to appeal to City Council,” Szerlag said in a prepared statement late Monday.

LCEC welcomes the opportunity to meet.

“The project has been in the planning phase for several years and it is important to residents and businesses on the Islands in our region,” said LCEC?spokesperson Karen Ryan Tuesday. “We are optimistic that we can work together to resolve this issue so the project can move forward.”

LCEC filed the administrative appeal with the city of Cape Coral on Friday over what utility officials said were unreasonable conditions placed upon project permits for a project LCEC hopes will provide better service to the islands.

The electric cooperative 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.

Ryan said Monday that requirements relating to city’s potential municipalization of electric service would 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 The city approved the permit, and later rescinded it, adding a requirement that LCEC agree that the value of the project will not be included in the price the city would pay should it opt to take over utility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“They rescinded the permit the next day and put these conditions on it.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 Hamilton in a statement concerning the permit withdrawal.

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.

According to city spokesperson Connie Barron, the city is perplexed by Hamilton’s sense of urgency.

“LCEC has been working with the Florida DEP and Army Corps of Engineers since 2008 and acquired permits from these agencies in 2011. These permits are set to expire next year,” said Barron in a statement. “LCEC just submitted a site plan and right-of-way permit request to the city this past month. After waiting more than four years to submit the permit request, Mr. Hamilton’s claim of an unreasonable delay by the city after less than a month seems a bit disingenuous.”

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

If it moves forward, 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.