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Move on — and keep the lines of communication open

March 21, 2009
Cape Coral Daily Breeze

We can think of lots of things we don't want in our backyard - or front yard, for that matter.

Nobody likes the sight of trash cans or Dumpsters. Sewage lift stations fall pretty high on the list of annoyances that we don't want to look at but that have to go somewhere because we can't do without the service.

In the Cape, for the last decade or so, the thing no one has wanted in their backyard has been overhead transmission lines.

The downtown Community Redevelopment Agency doesn't want the heavy-duty lines there, calling them unsightly "blight" that will bring development to a halt.

A few streets outside the CRA, residential property owners have said they don't want transmission lines in their neighborhood, either - especially since the reason the lines are needed is to create a power loop to the Lee County Electric Co-op substation on Southeast 47th Terrace smack dab in the heart of the downtown.

After more than 10 years of debate - including the appointment of an "underground committee" to look at the cost of burying the lines; numerous presentations before and by committee, CRA and LCEC officials; consideration of route and re-route plans; innumerable meetings, compromise proposals, reports and studies - city council finally made a decision on March 9.

Fact Box

For the downtown Community Redevelopment Agency and Lee County Electric Cooperative positions on this issue see letters: Guest opinion: CRA: Transmission line route will increase blight on Del Prado and Downtown; will scare off hundreds of millions of investment dollars and Guest Opinion: LCEC: Critical Cape Coral power line will keep the lights on.

The lines will go down Del Prado Boulevard from Everest Parkway to Southeast 47th Terrace, following existing distribution lines. The lines will be installed on higher poles overhead as the cost of undergrounding even the downtown portion would be considerable, and the CRA's proposals to divvy those millions up with the redevelopment agency, the utility and the city each paying varying portions failed to gain support.

The route decision affecting the more lengthy Del Prado portion of the project has caused nary a stir.

CRA officials, though, are seriously miffed. They want another round and have asked city council to reconsider its vote because the agency says it didn't have another opportunity for input.

We understand the CRA's position - it has not varied over the 10-year discourse.

As for the more-input-needed argument, pshaw.

There's not an issue that has had as much discussion except, perhaps, the Cape's on-again, off-again utility expansion project.

It's time to move on.

Council should reject the CRA plea to reconsider its vote on the route.

Understand, the utility line expansion project is as vital to the Cape as the expansion of water and sewer utilities.

We do agree that in an ideal world where cost was no object underground lines would be everyone's preference. But we - and apparently a council majority - also understand the economic realities of why LCEC doesn't want to OK millions of dollars in additional costs it would then need to pass on to all of its ratepayers.

Neither, of course, does the CRA or the city itself, not even for the portion of the project passing through the downtown.

We suggest a couple of things:

Although the route has been selected, the CRA still has the option of having the lines buried for what it says is a key portion of the project - the block that runs between Southeast 8th Court and Southeast 9th Place along Southeast 47th Terrace. A developer has purchased the entire parcel between Cape Coral Parkway and 47th, a street CRA officials hope will become the heart of a new, much more upscale downtown.

The developer said this week he would pull plans on the $180 million project to include a storied parking garage, 12-story condominium complex and various other improvements if the lines are installed overhead.

Now the lines will not pass directly in front of the complex, the plans call for no pole on the block in question, but CRA officials say they agree with the developer - no one buying a luxury condo will want to look at transmission lines, even if they are across the street where LCEC already has its substation.

Well, OK.

The CRA has budgeted $1.9 million toward undergrounding lines downtown and should consider allocating some portion to keep this project on the table. Ballpark figures say even if the CRA foots the whole bill, the allocated amount is more than enough.

The CRA's primary purpose is to clean up, mitigate and prevent blight within the district. And its parallel mission is revitalization. It seems to us, if we take the CRA's own definition of overhead lines literally, the agency may have a double opportunity here.

City council, which has rejected taking general fund money to pay for undergrounding, also has another option - economic development funds. Take a look at development incentives. We've certainly heard enough about them -and spent enough money trying to "attract projects." If we have one ready to go, this might be money well spent.

Look, too, to the developer, who already is working with the city. He wants to build his parking garage component on city land and has offered various things to make this happen including public parking and the offer of a police substation. Perhaps there's some room for compromise here.

Lastly, we urge LCEC and the CRA to continue discussions.

Everyone agrees utility poles and power lines aren't architectural enhancements. Perhaps, though, there's a possibility that the CRA could "trade up," and get all or some of the shorter polls removed by requesting the distribution lines run below the transmission lines as in an area of the north Cape. Remember, the route has been approved, the design and engineering phase is just getting under way. Remember, too, that while the transmission lines require higher poles, they require fewer of them.

Dual-use poles are something to consider and, if costs are not prohibitive, might make sense for Del Prado, too.

Keep the lines of communication open but move forward. It's time.

- Breeze editorial

 
 
 

 

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