By Steve Plunkett

Homeowners would pay $800 to $1,100 a year for 20 years to put overhead electric, telephone and cable TV wires underground, the town’s consulting engineer says.

The cost will depend on how much each household benefits from burying the wires based on aesthetics, safety and reliability of the new system, engineer Danny Brannon told town commissioners at their August meeting.

Brannon also told commissioners that Florida Power & Light Co. recently adopted a policy of refusing to allow outside contractors to connect high-voltage underground cables in pad-mounted transformers or switching cabinets. That could make an underground project more expensive and time-consuming, both for Gulf Stream and future towns that wish to convert.

FPL wants the contractors to leave the work site after they install the cabinets, send in company crews to connect the cables, then let the contractors back in to finish up. It would affect roughly 150 connections in Gulf Stream, Brannon said.

“We’ve found it’s better — construction-wise and schedule-wise and community-harmony-wise—for the town to undertake the [whole] installation,’’ he said after the meeting. “In Jupiter Island we did that and it worked very well.’’

Brannon said FPL has cut some engineering positions and is taking much longer to develop cost estimates. He’s hopeful he can get the utility to abandon the new policy on connections.

“It’s just another issue that needs to be ironed out,’’ he said.

Wildan Financial Services is canvassing Gulf Stream now to rank each household’s benefits and should have its ratings to Town Manager William H. Thrasher by mid-September, Brannon said. That should give the town enough time to educate voters on specific costs and hold a Town Hall meeting in November, he said.

The rating can be different for two sides of the same street, Brannon said. For example, while Hidden Harbor Drive already has underground service, a house on the north side of the street also has overhead wires along the back of the lot. Aesthetically, it will benefit more from the project than a house on the south side because its occupants will no longer see wires when they’re out in the backyard.

Neighborhoods with only overhead wires would benefit the most and pay the most, Brannon said.

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