Siesta Key business owners fretful about potential disruptions at busy time of year, as result of fiber optic cable project expected to start this month

Verizon project could begin as early as next week, with Crystal Classic set for Nov. 10-13 and Thanksgiving looming

Editor’s note: This article was updated on the afternoon of Nov. 6 to clarify that the fiber optic cable is an MCI project.

A schematic in the material provided to Sarasota County shows a section of the project area. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Siesta Key business owners expressed worry this week that the installation of MCI fiber optic cable through Siesta Village could disrupt the busiest time of the year for restaurants and bars.

After being surprised by the abundance of “locate paint” in the Village — which marks existing utility lines — Lisa Cece, Sarasota County’s special district coordinator, began trying to track down the source, The Sarasota News Leader learned from interviews this week. Finally, Cece was able to determine that the cable is to be laid from Givens Street south through Siesta Village to Calle Miramar; the work is planned for the west side of Ocean Boulevard.

Cece serves as the liaison between the county and the Siesta Key Village Maintenance Corp., which supervises and funds the upkeep of the Village.

Thus far, however, the exact timeline for the project planned by MCI Metro Access Transmission Services — a Verizon subsidiary — has not been set, the News Leader learned.

Jimmie Lee, a contractor working with MCI, told the News Leader during a Nov. 2 telephone interview that the team has all the necessary permits, but it needs to complete a more detailed set of engineering drawings before the work can proceed.

“We would like to start it next week, if possible,” he added.

Without a definitive timeline earlier in the week, Mark Smith, chair of the Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce, voiced concern that the project would be underway late this month.

Graphics on the material submitted to Sarasota County show the overall project area. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The Wednesday before Thanksgiving sees more customer traffic at restaurants and bars on the island than any other day, Smith pointed out in a Nov. 1 telephone interview. “They [would be] hitting the prime time,” he said of the project team members.

Additionally, Ann Frescura, executive director of the Chamber, reminded the News Leader on Nov. 1 that the eighth annual Siesta Key Crystal Classic Master Sand Sculpting Festival will begin on Nov. 10 and continue through Nov. 13. That brings tens of thousands of visitors to the island each year, as documented by Visit Sarasota County research. In 2016, that research showed, the event had a countywide economic impact of $8,134,000. The total attendance was 56,500, the Research Data Services Inc. report said.

The Holiday Parade and Light Up the Village — the Key’s kickoff events for the holiday season — are set for the night of Nov. 25, Frescura added. Those festivities also draw scores of visitors to Siesta Village. Those were her chief concerns, she said.

In response to Cece’s alert about the construction plans, Catherine Luckner, vice president of the Siesta Key Association, responded in an email: “The project site (sidewalk along Ocean Blvd. from Givens St. through the Village) is the most utilized route for visitors and residents walking to the Village. Pedestrian access and safety is our primary concern.”

In her Oct. 30 email to island leaders, Cece provided details about the project.

“It is fairly extensive,” she wrote, as it will run new 2” conduit 36” underground by directional bore. The distance will possibly be 1,500 feet between borings, so the public walkways, [brick pavers] and concrete, plus landscape areas will be affected. There will be sidewalk closures, signage and possible [maintenance of traffic crews, to guide drivers around the construction areas].”

She added, “Two drills will be positioned at some point in the future to do the drilling, but I do not have these locations yet. A right-of-way use permit has been approved for this work.”

A document provided to Sarasota County with project details says the work will start on the northwest corner of Givens Street and Ocean Boulevard. The work entails installation of the cable over a distance of approximately 3,900 linear feet, the document adds.

The contractor is required to use “MCI Communications Services, Inc. furnished material,” it notes.

Speed is the priority

A schematic shows the area near the termination point of the project. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Lee of MCI told the News Leader his goal is to complete the work first in the areas with the pavers. He felt that that could be accomplished in one day, he said.

In her Oct. 30 email, Cece noted that Lee “sent a communication to the subcontractor, [Black & Veatch of Tampa], that brick pavers are present, and if they have to remove [them] they have to reinstall, level and replace sand. Concrete areas [also must] be intact upon completion.”

On Nov. 1, Kenneth Soule of Overland Contracting in Tampa, who is listed on the project document as construction operations manager for that firm, told the News Leader that he is well acquainted with former Verizon employees who spent a lot of time on the island. Therefore, he and the project team members are very familiar with the nature of the Key as a resort destination. “We’ll be in and out quickly,” he promised of the project. “It’s probably a week’s worth of work.”

“It seems awfully ambitious,” Smith responded when told of that comment.

Soule added of the team members, “They’re doing their due diligence.”

Lee also emphasized due diligence when he spoke with the News Leader.

Chair Mark Smith and Ann Frescura, executive director, of the Siesta Chamber gather up materials after a Feb. 15 Chamber meeting. File photo

Still, Smith reminded the News Leader that he could not recall any boring project in the Village that had not hit a gas line. “That shuts business down, of course.”

Smith also voiced frustration about the fact that utility companies “don’t have to ask anybody anything” before embarking on a project. He was referring to the lack of notice to the Chamber or any island organizations during the planning of the project.

Cece expressed frustration to the News Leader about the many hues of locate paint she found in the Village. County staff works hard to minimize use of that paint, she pointed out. “We really do make the extra effort,” she said, to keep the Village looking like a resort, as noted in the county contracts for its upkeep.

Bad experiences

People stroll through Siesta Village on the eastern side of the street on an evening in mid-May. File photo

Although he said he was trying to remain optimistic about this project, Smith pointed out that in 2007, when Sarasota County staff was preparing to begin the Village beautification project, Verizon sent representatives to every planning session. Yet, when the time came for the company to have workers put new utility boxes in the ground, they were not ready, Smith added; the equipment had to be ordered. For six weeks, he continued, the Daiquiri Deck had “a big hole open” in front of it, as Village leaders and county staff waited on Verizon to get its work completed.

Communication and coordination with business and property owners in the Village should be a priority for any company planning work in the area, he said, “because of the gas line situation.”

“There’s just so much stuff underneath that sidewalk in the Village,” he added.

As for the fiber optic cable project: Smith told the News Leader, “These folks need to understand … they could hurt business at a key time of the year. … You’ve got to be up and running full-steam when [the tourists are] here. … There’s people’s livelihoods at stake.”

At least Florida Power & Light Co.’s lines are on the east side of Ocean Boulevard, Smith said. Referring to the crews who will handle the fiber optic cable project, he joked, “They won’t get electrocuted, but they might get blown up. I strongly suggest they not smoke.”