Thursday, October 20, 2016

Burying the Powerlines in North Bay Village

There is a proposition on the North Bay Village power lines to affirm a 2006 proposition to bury the powerlines, an attractive idea but I am recommending a NO vote on the proposition.  

To understand how this happened, we need to go back to 2006 in North Bay Village when this was on the ballot.  The year before we were sucker punched by Hurricane Wilma and North Bay Village was without electricity for nearly two weeks.  It was a messy and inconvenient time and was without a doubt a result of the poor infrastructure in our power lines.  

We knew burying the lines would be expensive. The original debt bond was for $9 million, and that did not include the cost to the individual homeowners to switch to underground power.  But two things were driving the move to underground - the recent memory of Wilma and the implied but never overtly stated promise that the additional moneys would come from the then booming condo development market.  

The Village did not move forward quickly and by 2008, the promised condo boom had turned into the slow, nasty slog that drains our resources and 10 years on leaves our causeway looking like the 3rd world.   The massive overdevelopment was never going to bring us any benefits and certainly wasn't ever going to pay for the burying.   

The Commission decided to put this on the ballot to see if there was still public support for the idea.  There probably is not and for very good reasons.  
  1. It's expensive.  Apart from the increased tax costs, each home and building affected would be responsible for trenching and paying for the new power line hookups.  A back of the envelope guess is $3000 or so to dig the trench and attach the powerline.  In addition, each house or building would have to have a code inspection to see if the electrical system is up to code for 2016.  Most of the single family homes were built in the 1950's and while some have been modernized, not all have been.  Those who are not up to current code will need to rewire their homes to meet code, at a cost to the homeowner that could be well over $5,000 or more depending on what has to be done.  Plus the homeowner pays the building inspection fees.
  2. One out of Two Houses Loses.  Right now, the pole transformers in the back serve 4 houses.  Undergrounding means that there needs to be a tranformer every 2 houses, so either I or my neighbor has to have a box installed in our front yard.  That could leave to conflict with the neighbors and it's not particularly fair.
  3. The condos who have already built with underground wires will have to pay the increased tax burden.  While by and large, the condos have brought little benefit to North Bay Village what with stealing the Bayfront from the residents, building inadequate parking, and the shady deals reducing the impact fees, it seems like the additional cost for the changes to our infrastructure should be paid by those who benefit.
  4. It's not clear that it is a benefit.  While underground wires will reduce the vulnerability to wind damage, they also seriously increase the possibility of water damage, particularly salt water damage.   When we have floods, it's mostly bay water, salt water, and damage to the lines or the transmission boxes means a complicated process of drying and desalinating the boxes before they can be back in service.   
I just can't see how this would benefit us.  The powerlines are ugly and worn out (so am I!  Boom!) but FPL/Atlanticbb/ATT need to harden the aboveground infrastructure to make them less susceptible to wind damage and upgrade our grid to make us more resilient.  I believe the benefits from that effort will pay us back much more than undergrounding.  If North Bay Village were built today, we would have a whole different picture of our infrastructure but given the difficulties and expenses in this proposal, we are better off sticking with the status quo.  And if the Gang of 3 don't up their game, we can always force the issue later.

Kevin Vericker
October 20, 2016

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