BRADENTON BEACH – The city’s Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) is ramping up its conversations on putting utility lines along Bridge Street underground.
CRA chair Ralph Cole has been advocating for underground utility lines since 2016. During the Feb. 7 CRA meeting, he said it would cost $160,000 for Florida Power & Light’s (FPL) portion of an undergrounding project on Bridge Street. There would be additional work and costs associated with the cable TV and internet providers and underground boring services. Cole said there would also be some cost to Bridge Street business owners, but he thinks they would support the project.
“You have to start somewhere. It might be time to lay the foundation to start undergrounding the power. My goal is get everything underground eventually and get rid of all the wires,” Cole said, noting that underground utility lines were included in the original CRA plan in 1992.
Cole said FPL’s work would cost $1.7 million if undergrounding the entire CRA district from Fifth Street South to the Cortez Bridge. He said the project could be done citywide as funds become available or the city could borrow the money and charge property owners a special assessment fee.
Public Works Director Tom Woodard estimated the total cost to underground utility lines on Bridge Street alone to be slightly less than $1 million.
“The $160,000 is basically FPL’s small part of it. That’s for the cable and the conduit. That does not include Bright House, Spectrum, Frontier or whomever. There are a lot of other factors,” he said.
Woodard and City Engineer Lynn Burnett met with Longboat Key representatives to learn more about that town’s undergrounding efforts. Burnett said the town hired a consultant to conduct a feasibility study and help coordinate the parties involved.
In 2015, Longboat Key voters approved the town borrowing $25.25 million to underground all electric, phone and cable lines and install fiber optic cables along Gulf of Mexico Drive. The town website says the project is in the early stages of implementation. This includes establishing special assessment fees for each parcel of land. The fees range from $2,400 to more than $5,500 and full construction of the underground network will take several years.
“We’re about this beautiful setting and power lines suck. It’s certainly safer because we are really susceptible to power going down in storms,” CRA member Ed Chiles said. “What’s the negative to putting power underground, besides a property owner changing his lead?”
Member Jake Spooner said underground lines are harder to maintain, and it can be more difficult to locate breaks and trouble spots.
“If we’re going to do it, let’s look at the whole thing. What’s it gonna cost? Is it feasible?” member John Horne said.
“I think it is something we should look at for the entire city,” member John Chappie said.
Extending the project beyond the CRA district would require City Commission approval and CRA funds could not be used outside the district boundaries.
City Treasurer Shayne Thompson said the current CRA fund balance is slightly more than $1.9 million including $347,000 in tax revenues received this year. He estimated the CRA would receive $400,000 next year.
Member Randy White asked how deep the power lines would be buried.
Burnett said the depth varies depending on several factors. She said some lines in Longboat Key would be buried to 25 feet and others would be shallower.
“I’m thinking of Avenue C and what a mess that is. Would that not happen on Bridge Street?” White said when asking about the amount of digging required.
Burnett said bore pits would be needed where the underground boring begins and where the conduit and lines are pulled to the surface.
“It’s not a trench dig,” she said, noting the work on Avenue C is a combination of boring and an open-cut trench dig.
The board directed Burnett and Woodward to gather more information for its March meeting.