By Hector Florin
The fight for underground utilities along some coastal towns continues, but it lacks momentum due in large part to the faltering financial markets.
Gulf Stream and Ocean Ridge commissioners last month voted to extend support with a group of about 60 Florida municipalities seeking to move power lines underground. Both towns have contributed a few thousand dollars each as part of efforts to negotiate the project’s cost with Florida Power & Light.
Gulf Stream officials twice addressed the topic at its Jan. 9 meeting; the second time in a spontaneous burst after a new town resident was quizzical about experiencing three power outages in four days.
Town Manager William Thrasher acknowledged the “strength in numbers” in having cities unite to look into the possibility.
“We would love to have underground power lines,” Vice Mayor Joan Orthwein said.
The Town Commission could soon vote on contributing another $1,000 to $1,500 into a fund created to study the issue.
A key sticking point so far during talks of a cost arrangement: FPL’s 25 percent “rebate,” a number that cities think should be higher because they say maintenance costs will drop significantly with underground lines. “In general we believe their participation should be about 50 percent,” Ocean Ridge Town Manager Ken Schenck wrote in a memo to commissioners ahead of the town’s Jan. 5 meeting.
Burying utility lines in Ocean Ridge would cost in the millions, but no estimate has been made, Schenck said.
Manalapan is also looking into burying power lines in town.
The town of Palm Beach has discussed the idea since 2003, but following the 2004-05 hurricane seasons, other coastal towns joined forces. Even with a 25 percent commitment from FPL, work on Palm Beach would run to around $70 million, Deputy Town Manager Tom Bradford said.
But it’s tough to push forward in such a dour economy, which has also hit public funding. “Times right now for cities are tough financially,” Bradford said.
Also at the Jan. 9 meeting:
• Golf cart issue: Continued discussion on golf cart safety issues. Commissioners wondered how to regulate residents who drive their golf carts while letting their pets, particularly dogs, off the leash. With four of five commissioners present, the board postponed deciding whether an ordinance should be drafted to regulate this and other golf cart issues, and what sort of enforcement would be needed.