By Dan Moffett
A surge of fresh optimism is running through the Gulf Stream underground power project, after town officials have claimed a series of hard-fought gains in recent weeks.
Mayor Scott Morgan says Comcast and AT&T are completing the finishing touches on the project’s first phase, and the town has hired a special counsel to negotiate with Florida Power & Light and the other utilities for the second phase.
Morgan said it took “a number of emails and letters with demands and/or veiled threats” to prod Comcast and AT&T into action, as the town reaches the sixth anniversary of the project’s inception.
Commissioners have signed off on a contract with Wilco Electric that will cut the projected cost overrun by about half going forward, and Town Manager William Thrasher says there’s enough money in the town’s coffers to cover the roughly $510,000 in extra spending.
“No additional assessments will be asked for,” Thrasher said.
Danny Brannon, the town’s engineering consultant, was able to squeeze some $440,000 in savings out of the second phase, largely from redesigning conduit and connections. Morgan says that Comcast plans to install fiber optic cable in the second phase instead of coaxial, a change that should lower costs and improve performance.
At the town’s May 13 meeting, commissioners unanimously approved a basket of measures and agreements for the second phase:
• A change order that reduces the Wilco contract from about $2.9 million to $2.4 million.
• A separate $460,000 contract with Wilco for new, energy-efficient street lighting.
• A change order for Comcast to make the switch from coaxial cable to fiber optic. And a $25,000 payment to AT&T for engineering and design work.
• An endorsement of Morgan’s role in leading the negotiations and also the hiring of Gary Resnick as special counsel for the project.
Resnick, an attorney with Gray Robinson law firm in Fort Lauderdale, has served as mayor of Wilton Manors since 2008. Besides experience in utility negotiations, Resnick also has served on the Federal Communication Commission’s intergovernmental advisory committee, a group of local officials that advises the government on communications policy. He also has held a seat on the National League of Cities’ information technology steering committee.
“Mr. Resnick is an expert in public utilities law,” Morgan said. “He has quite a bit of experience.”
In other business, the Florida League of Cities honored Commissioner Joan Orthwein for her 21 years as an elected official and Vice Mayor Robert Ganger and Thrasher with “Home Rule Hero” awards.
Orthwein won election to the commission in 1995 and served as mayor from 2012 to 2014. She is the second-longest serving elected official in Palm Beach County, behind Cloud Lake Mayor Patrick Slatery, who has held his seat for 38 years.
Ganger and Thrasher were honored for their efforts in trying to persuade the Legislature to do more to protect small communities from abuses of the state’s public records laws.
In April, the Government Finance Officers Association recognized the commission and accountant Rebecca Tew for their budget work.
By Dan Moffett