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LCEC project stalled due to permit condition issued by Cape Coral

September 16, 2015
By MEGHAN McCOY ( , Island Reporter, Captiva Current, Sanibel-Captiva Islander

LCEC CEO Dennie Hamilton provided an update to the Captiva Community Panel last Tuesday regarding rebuilding a transmission line that crosses from Cape Coral over Matlacha Pass to Pine Island between its substations.

"That line is about 45 years old," he said. "When we plan our electric system, we usually plan out 10 years into the future, so it's a rolling 10 years. So, 10 years ago we realized that line needed to be replaced. When we started the process, which is typically a long process, you have to get those projects lined up."

LCEC began the process by speaking to the Department of Environmental Protection, as well as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers due to some concerns DEP had regarding the sea grass in Matlacha Pass. Those concerns led LCEC to approaching the project from the Cape Coral side, which then led to interaction with the U.S. Coast Guard.

"The last step in the process was to get permits from the City of Cape Coral," Hamilton said.

The permits were needed because there were three poles in the right-of-way. Another temporary permit was sought because LCEC was going to use a lot to stage their equipment and material needed to go across the island.

"On this Cape Coral project, we thought we would be coming in from the west on airboats with the equipment. The sea grass is an issue and we understand that. That is not the problem. We just had to change the project to accommodate," Hamilton said.

A couple days after the City of Cape Coral issued the permit without any conditions, they rescinded the permit and reissued it with a condition.

"The condition that they put on the permit was that if the City of Cape Coral in the future decides to buy the electric system, we would agree not to charge them any costs for rebuilding that line. We think that is an unacceptable condition. It has nothing to do with the permitting process. It's not related," Hamilton said.

If the line across Matlacha Pass goes down the service on Captiva and Sanibel goes out, which was a major concern of the panel. The line would affect Captiva, Sanibel, Pine Island, Useppa Island and Cabbage Key impacting approximately 15,000 to 20,000 customers.

The overall intent, he said is to get the line fixed before something goes wrong.

"We are in the meantime looking at what we can (do) to patch the current system," Hamilton said. "There are some repairs we can do to the concrete pole out there that is critical for the infrastructure. There are some ides about setting the poles there next to the pole in case it fails it does not take us as long to restore service."

Hamilton said discussions have been made regarding the system being separated. He said if the City of Cape Coral purchased the transmission line and it became abandoned, then LCEC would have to construct a new line from Pine Island through Matlacha.

"If we were to go that route and that is the route they suggested to do, that would probably cost more than the rebuild and it would take an awful long time," Hamilton said.

The project, which has an estimated total price tag of $20 million, consists of about $11 million in contracted work and $9 million for materials involved.

"If the city municipalizes that is fine, but we have the rest of our membership to get what they are owed and the assets that they have purchased," Hamilton said. "We are just not willing to accept that condition."

"The longer we delay the further we have to fix that line," he said.

Hamilton said they do not know if the Cape Coral City Council is fully aware of the issue. He said if the City of Cape Coral chooses to municipalize, LCEC would abandon the transmission line and the city would be responsible to pay any damage to the rest of the LCEC customers.

"So, they know very clearly that the way the law reads they would have to pay for that line," Hamilton said. "We hope we get this resolved before we get to legal action. We are trying to make sure everyone is aware."

The Captiva Community Panel told Hamilton if they need their organization to get involved they would be more than happy to do so.

LCEC on Friday filed an administrative appeal of the city's actions saying the utility needs "to move forward with a critical project that ensures reliable service to more than 18,000 customers/members on Pine, Sanibel, Captiva, North Captiva, and Useppa Islands, and Cabbage Key..."

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