By Dan Moffett
Frustrated town commissioners are looking for ways to accelerate Gulf Stream’s utilities project after learning it might not be completed until the end of the decade.
“It seems to me this town may need to take some appropriate steps to force the issue,” said Mayor Scott Morgan on hearing town engineering consultant Danny Brannon’s report about the slow pace of progress in burying utility service lines.
Not much has happened since FPL workers completed the first phase of the $5.4 million project and moved power lines underground on the south side of town. Neither AT&T nor Comcast has begun moving their telephone and cable wires off poles in the southern neighborhoods, and FPL is months away from beginning Phase 2 work on the north side.
Brannon told town commissioners at their March meeting that, based on experience he’s had in other communities such as Jupiter Inlet Colony, it can take between two and three years to get the telephone and cable wires moved after FPL puts its electric wires underground. He said Comcast and AT&T are working on the design plans they’ll need to have in hand before they can begin moving lines to finish the project in the south end.
“I’ve been sitting here for a year on this commission hearing what you’ve reported,” Morgan told Brannon, “and it seems to be about the same. I’m not being critical of you or your company — you’re a marionette at the end of the string from Comcast and AT&T.”
Morgan said the town should consider negotiating a tougher timetable for the north end and get an agreement with the two companies to complete their work in a specific amount of time. He said the town should consider imposing penalties for delays.
Another option is for the town to hire contractors of its own to move the cable wiring. AT&T fabricates its own wires, but the cable company’s work could be done by someone else, and Commissioner Robert Ganger thinks that’s worth exploring.
“I’ve hardly ever seen a Comcast person here — there’s always a truck with some no-name on it that Comcast hires to do their dirty work,” Ganger said. “It’s not that complicated to take a pole, stick wire in some conduit and pull it. This is not rocket science.”
Brannon said outside contractors could cost the town twice as much as Comcast. “But if time is of the essence, then we’ll have to weigh that,” he said, and told commissioners he had discussed the idea with Comcast representatives in Atlanta.
“We can’t go over this budget,” Ganger said. “But by the same token, we can’t have poles in the skies for the next decade.”
After Comcast and AT&T complete their work, perhaps several years from now, FPL still has to come back and remove all the poles. At the current pace, that conceivably could run into 2019 or beyond.
Commissioners found solace in two positive points: So far, the project has stayed roughly within its budget. And if, heaven forbid, a hurricane should strike the town this season, at least south end residents would have electricity, if nothing else.
“We’ve achieved about a tenth of what we wanted to achieve,” said Ganger, who started pushing the project in 2008. “But at least we’ve achieved something.”
By Dan Moffett