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Underground electric? Utility info session set

By Staff | May 27, 2016

Residents in one northwest Cape neighborhood will have an opportunity to offer their opinion regarding the undergrounding of electric and communications services at the same time water and sewer utilities are extended in the coming two years.

The June 8 meeting is scheduled for 6-8 p.m. that Wednesday at Crista McAuliffe Charter School, 2817 SW 3rd Lane. In attendance at the meeting will be Assistant City Manager Mike Ilczyszyn, Energy Manager Oliver Clark along with representatives from customer billing, Spencer Consulting and LCEC.

The cost of the undergrounding portion of the project is estimated to be between $6,000 and $8,000 in addition to an estimated $19,000 for the water and sewer expansion assessment, which includes impact fees and plumber’s connection charges. If the project is approved by residents and city council, everyone will pay both assessments, but vacant lots will not be charged connection fees (estimated at $500 to $2,500) for undergrounding until the property is improved.

“I’m not overly thrilled with it,” said neighborhood resident Mike Smith. “I think it would be great to have underground electric, but when you consider $9,000 on top of the $19,000 UEP that’s $30,000 for everything. It would be nice to have, but I bet they catch a lot of flak over that.”

After the June 8 meeting, the city will send all property owners in the area a ballot to be returned in three to four weeks. If 50 percent plus one responses are positive, the project will go to city council to decide whether to proceed.

“From the responses, we will take it to council and say here’s what we know, here’s what we learned and they will decide if it goes forward,” said Ilczyszyn. “This is an opportunity for the public to see and hear the plans at the meeting. The undergrounding comes with a full LED street light system. Street lights out there are sporadic right now. LED?street lights will be the only poles in the neighborhood if it goes through, and there is no guarantee that it will.”

The city maintains that installing the underground electrical and conduit for communication services concurrent with the North 2 UEP will save right-of-way restoration costs in the long run.

The neighborhood generally is bordered on the west by Old Burnt Store Road, north of Pine Island Road, on the east by Burnt Store Road and on the north by Bonefish Canal. It includes four of the Seven Islands.

In addition to the safety benefit of eliminating overhead poles and wires, other benefits include a more attractive neighborhood, more reliable service and possibly influence higher property values, city officials said.

“The neighborhood is 60 percent undeveloped,” said Ilczyszyn. “Many lots out there are going for $200,000 or $300,000. It’s upscale, which is why we chose it.”

That still doesn’t sit well with some residents.

“A lot of people here are retired and that is why they moved here,” said Smith. “It’s bad enough with the water assessment, but to add another $9,000 to it is not right. I think they are preparing us for the Seven Islands project and what they want to do with that area.”

Smith, who lived in Tennessee before moving to Cape Coral, indicated utilities were done differently there.

“In Tennessee the sewer system there came with no up-front assessment,” he said. “It was built into the water bill. If you bought a house you continued to pay that cost in your water bill. Besides, if you finance the $30,000 here you will wind up paying $40,000 for it. Bonita Springs did it for a fraction of that.”

Even if only 10 or 20 percent of property owners return the ballots, the city administration will bring it forward on the 50 percent plus one theory.

“The council will know the percentage of ballots that were returned and the percentage of positive or negative responses and go from there,” said Ilczyszyn. “If it comes back 50 percent plus one negative we won’t go ahead. It will just go away.”

If the city decides to go forward with the improvements and impose the special assessments, the city intends to finance the costs of construction. Special assessments would be imposed prior to the completion of the project and prior to obtaining financing in order to reduce costs and potential interest rate increases.

For more information call (239) 574-0425.