Harden Or Go Underground? (6/09/16)

NEWS RELEASE 01-16: To Harden or Not to Harden – that is the question

June 9, 2016

To Harden or Not to Harden – that is the question

Utility Undergrounding Initiative Status Update #1

Palm Beach Shores, FL - One of the pressing priorities for Mayor Koutzen in her first few months as Mayor is to determine how to bring the question of undergrounding utilities to the residents for a vote.  This topic has been discussed for over 10 years, but circumstances are forcing the Town to take a stand, one way or another, this year. 

FullSizeRender(1)“This is a pivotal decision for our Town because staying the way we are is not an option,” said Koutzen.  “The State of Florida has mandated that all electrical delivery systems be hardened against storm damage.  Our town is on FPL's schedule for hardening our above-ground system this year.  They have already requested the permits.” 

This means that FPL would replace the current utility poles in town with much wider and taller poles as shown in the image on the left.  They would be concrete along the avenues and inlet walkway.  Stronger wooden poles would be placed behind the houses as necessary.  The equipment on top of the poles and wires would be larger and stronger to withstand high winds.  While this wouldn't cost the Town directly, it will change the look of the Town dramatically. 

The Town has the option to stop the hardening process by moving forward with placing pole mounted utility lines underground.  Doing so would make it much less likely that customers would lose power during a storm event.  Other benefits include improved safety with the elimination of downed wires that can cause fires, beautification of the Town, and improved communications through upgraded fiber optic lines for faster, more reliable internet, TV and phone service.

To facilitate that decision, the Commission had agreed to hire an engineering firm that specializes in this type of project to develop a feasibility study for the town.  This study would give a detailed description of the process and provide a "not to exceed" cost estimate.  The initial $4-5 million estimate is a couple of years old, and more current numbers are needed to make the best decision.

Once the feasibility is obtained and reviewed, the Town Commission will bring the information to the property owners for a decision.  At that point, the community will decide together if the undergrounding benefits of improved reliability, safety and aesthetics are justified by the expense of putting the utility lines underground.

The decision to move forward with the project will be made through a straw poll in which all each property will be given one vote – regardless if they are registered voters, full time residents or American citizens.  A workgroup of three residents have volunteered to work with Town staff to design and oversee the administration of this straw poll.  The straw poll voting package will include detailed information about the project to assist voters in their decision.  There will be opportunities for residents to ask questions and to read the feasibility study.  A timeline and estimated costs will be included.  Mailing packages will be forwarded to snowbirds as registered with the US Post Office.  Ballots will be collected and counted by the Town Auditor.  Every effort will be made to ensure that the vote is impartial and that every property owner gets an opportunity to participate.

“The Commission and I would like to thank everyone for their patience and participation in this important initiative for the Town’s future,” added Koutzen.  “We will be back with more information when our feasibility study is completed.” 

Information will be posted on the Town’s website at www.palmbeachshoresfl.us following completion of the feasibility study and the Commission’s review.  This will include the feasibility study, status updates, Questions & Answers (Q&A), and photos.