FPL giving city price cut to convert overhead electrical service to underground lines between Coon Key Bridge and St. Armands

Public Works general manager explains the reduction’s link to lower company expense in restoring power after storms

The Coon Key Bridge is one of the links between downtown Sarasota and St. Armands Circle. Image from Google Maps

Florida Power & Light Co. (FPL) is giving the City of Sarasota a 25% price cut on the expense of burying the electrical lines along John Ringling Boulevard between the Coon Key Bridge and St. Armands Circle, Public Works General Manager Michael DelRossi told the City Commission on Nov. 5.

The board unanimously approved paying a total of $593,505 for the initiative. As City Manager Tom Barwin explained, the work was included in the same plans for St. Armands that incorporate construction of a new parking garage on North Adams Drive.

A city staff memo included in the agenda packet for the commissioners in advance of their Nov. 5 regular meeting noted that the goal is to “provide an improved sense of ‘arrival’” on St. Armands.

No schedule was available for the FPL project. The staff memo said the company would determine the timeline.

Additionally, a letter FPL sent to city staff in April said all the work would be performed during daylight hours, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.

On March 21, 2016, the memo explained, the City Commission approved the general plans and directed staff to coordinate the project with FPL.

The bonds the city issued recently to cover the approximately $15-million expense of the St. Armands parking garage also will pay for the removal of the existing power poles and other equipment and burying of new lines underground, Barwin said on Nov. 5.

A September 2017 rendering shows the type of signage that will greet visitors to St. Armands Circle as part of the improvements planned for the shopping district. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

An FPL cost sheet included with the April letter estimated the expense of the removal of the existing overhead facilities at $46,516. The new underground equipment was projected to cost $972,960, the sheet noted, with the city given a credit of $234,585 for the expense of installing equivalent overhead equipment “at current hardening standards.”

“They will be hardening a lot of their facilities within the next five to six years,” DelRossi explained of FPL workers. Experience with hurricanes in Florida has shown that the company has incurred lower power restoration expenses in areas where equipment is underground, he pointed out.

The 25% waiver program began in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma’s strike on the state in September 2017, Barwin added.

When Vice Mayor Jen Ahearn-Koch sought clarification that the 25% would come “off the top” of the city’s payment to the company, DelRossi told her that was correct.

Many communities have been considering burying power lines, Ahearn-Koch said. As a member of a Florida League of Cities committee handling environmental policies, she continued, she has heard discussion about municipalities avoiding electrical outages during storms in areas where the cities had underground equipment. “Makes total sense.”

Then Commissioner Willie Shaw — the longest serving of the current city commissioners — told his colleagues, “We have had underground [power lines] on Bird Key for 40 years, so we’re well aware of [the positive factors].” The city, he added, has “seen very little break in service out there. … Sarasota’s again ahead of the curve …”

The FPL cost sheet says the company will install 31,072 feet of underground cable, seven switch cabinets and five underground transformers. The company will remove 10,462 feet of overhead “Primary Conductor,” as well as 25 poles and five overhead transformers.

Commissioner Shelli Freeland Eddie made the motion to approve the expense of the project between Coon Key Bridge and St. Armands Circle, and Commissioner Hagen Brody seconded it. Then the motion passed 5-0.

The staff memo provided to the commission said staff had been working not only with FPL on the project but also with the St. Armands Key Lutheran Church and Plymouth Harbor, because of the need for easements for the installation of power transformers and electrical switch boxes on their properties.

“The City will be required to aid in landscape maintenance around these new components should the areas be accessed by FPL,” the memo noted.

Additionally, “It is anticipated that the City will be required to perform minor electrical connections and repair any ground surface landscaping/trenching (minor) that is necessary to complete the project,” the memo added. Those costs are estimated at less than $20,000, the memo said.