Two days in a row, FPL contractor digs into county water main on north Siesta

30 homes in the Treasure Boat Way neighborhood affected by pole replacement incidents

A red flag marks the site of the water main breaks. Image from Google Maps
A red flag marks the site of the water main breaks. Image from Google Maps

Treasure Boat Way resident Joe Volpe was in the shower Monday morning when the water flow suddenly ceased. The reason? A contractor working for Florida Power & Light Co. (FPL) had hit a Sarasota County water main as it worked to replace a utility pole.

He immediately called the Sarasota County Contact Center to report the problem and then set out on his bicycle to see what he could find, he told The Sarasota News Leader.

And find it, he did. The water was gushing 2 feet into the air at 721 Treasure Boat Way on Siesta Key, Volpe said. The diameter of that “geyser” was about 6 to 8 inches, he added. The street was flooded.

Volpe’s wife, Lana, said the couple and their neighbors had no water service for about three hours.

In response to a request for information, county spokesman Drew Winchester told the News Leader that the contractor for FPL — Diversified Services of Hartselle, Ala. — damaged the 3-inch water main that serves 30 Treasure Boat residents and one house on Oxford Drive.

County employees repaired the damage and distributed “Boil water” notices to the residents on Sept. 26, Winchester added. The boiling advisory is a recommended precaution, county staff has explained, whenever a water line break occurs.

Joe Volpe. File photo
Joe Volpe. File photo

The next morning, Sept. 27, Volpe again was in the shower when the water flow stopped. And, again, he called the Contact Center. Coincidentally, he reached the same staff member he had spoken with the previous day. As he related it to the News Leader, as soon as he told her why he was calling, she replied, “Again?!”

Once more, a county crew went out to the scene to deal with the damage. At least less water was lost that morning, Volpe told the News Leader. On Monday, he said, the contractor was using what he described as “a huge drill bit,” about 2 feet in diameter. On Sept. 27, the crew members had resorted to hand tools. Nonetheless, Volpe said, “They basically dug almost the exact same location.”

A retired engineer, Volpe added that he told a member of the crew, “‘If you hit [the water main] hand digging, you need to move over a little bit.’”

Bill Orlove, a spokesman for FPL, said in a Sept. 28 telephone interview with the News Leader that the crew was working to install eight utility poles in the neighborhood, a project that should conclude by the end of this week.

Since 2006, he explained, the company has been inspecting its 1.2 million poles statewide to test their strength. “If they don’t meet our standards, then we replace them. … We want to ensure reliable service to our customers.”

That process is undertaken every eight years, he explained. “It’s a lot of poles.”

Since 2006, Orlove added, FPL has inspected 117,330 poles in Sarasota County alone.

Volpe told the News Leader that he compared the size of the new poles to the old ones while he was on the scene of the work. The replacements are about 2 feet taller, he noted, and they have larger diameters.

The subcontractor was using “locates” to try to avoid hitting any utility lines, Orlove added.

“The placement of those poles [is] usually just inside the property line” within the right of way, county spokesman Winchester pointed out.

When asked whether FPL reimbursed the county, Orlove replied, “I can’t really address that. … We do work with the contractor and the people that we serve. … If there’s an issue, it’s corrected.”

Orlove stressed, “Certainly we apologize to any customers that were involved. Our contractors and crews try to work safely and respectfully …”

An FPL YouTube video explains the company’s efforts to improve the reliability of its system, including pole replacement. Image from the video
An FPL YouTube video explains the company’s efforts to improve the reliability of its system, including pole replacement. Image from the video

A fact sheet FPL released this year says that during the past five years in Sarasota County, the company “has improved service reliability for our customers by more than 25 percent.”

From this year through 2018, the document adds, the company “plans to invest approximately $1.75 billion … to improve the overall resiliency of the electric system.”

“To help mitigate the damage of storm surge,” the fact sheet says, the company has “installed flood protection measures including real-time water monitors at 20 substations in Sarasota County.” This year, it is upgrading eight main power lines; among them are “those serving important community facilities and key thoroughfares,” the document notes.

When the News Leader checked in with Volpe on Sept. 28, the Treasure Boat Way situation was much improved, he reported: The contractor had installed the last pole on the road spur in the part of the neighborhood where his house stands and moved on to another area. “I got my shower.”