The Loxahatchee Groves Town Council heard an update from Florida Power & Light representatives Tuesday, Nov. 7 regarding the recently completed upgrades that buried the power lines in the southern half of the community, and the easement issues that are stopping work elsewhere.
The presentation was led by Ilan Kaufer, external affairs manager for FPL, joined by customer advisor Danny Turbet.
Kaufer noted that after the underground power line work in the southern area, there were plans to continue with lines in other parts of the community, but those were stopped due to difficulties obtaining the necessary easements in the rights of way.
This was particularly the case with Folsom Road to F Road, north of Okeechobee Blvd., as well as a project on North B Road, which was stalled due to legal issues.
Kaufer said that neither of those areas are on the 2024 plan. “We don’t have easements to put the lines underground in those areas,” he said.
Town Manager Francine Ramaglia noted that the town has had similar issues.
“Some of these easements are the same easements that have held up our road projects,” she said. “When we get the easements, then they can come back to the table to finish the project.”
Ramaglia later clarified that the town is not collecting easements for FPL. Both entities need to collect separate easements.
Councilwoman Phillis Maniglia said that she was not happy that FPL did not work harder to get the necessary easements. The current goal is to work on easements in 2024 and perhaps get the work on the 2025 schedule.
“We will continue to work with you and your team as soon as those easements are acquired,” Kaufer said, adding that the project is already planned and designed.
Councilwoman Marianne Miles asked it the town’s maintenance easements can be used instead.
“If there is another option that we can look at, I’m aways happy to sit down and bring in engineers to speak with your staff,” Kaufer said.
Mayor Laura Danowski asked about the necessary size of the easement, and Kaufer said that FPL normally tries to get a 10-foot easement with five feet on either side of the line. They don’t want to put them under roadways, because if the line needs to be repaired, they will then need to dig up the road.
Some residents have offered easements on the back of their property, Danowski said, but Kaufer replied that FPL prefers the front of the property near roads, so trucks don’t have to ride through people’s property if there are problems. Also, each project would need to be all front or all back. “Zigzagging back and forth exponentially increases costs,” he said.
Maniglia asked if burying the lines is still considered a pilot project.
“It started as a pilot project, now they are working to underground pretty much all of the laterals across the state,” Kaufer said.
Now that much of the work has been done, Councilwoman Marge Herzog asked about the plan for removing old power poles.
Kaufer explained that once FPL removes its power line, many of the poles become controlled by any other utilities that may still be using it, mostly communication companies.
“If there is a specific pole you are concerned about, you are welcome to contact me, and we can determine if it is our pole,” Kaufer said. “If it is in a degraded position and causing a safety issue, we definitely want to know about it.”
Maniglia agreed that the abandoned poles are ugly and wished that FPL had worked together with the cable, phone and internet companies to underground all the lines at the same time. Herzog suggested that perhaps the town should mandate that all the wires must go underground at the same time.
Vice Mayor Robert Shorr brought up the related issue that FPL is no longer trimming around the above-ground lines. This is an issue for the cable and internet providers still using the poles that FPL has abandoned.
“We need to figure out how to keep our low-voltage lines clear, because without their lines, there is no more just calling FPL,” Shorr said.
Miles thanked FPL for the underground work but agreed that the remaining wires would be an issue with upkeep.
“We are going to have to address as a town the other utilities that are on these poles,” she said.
FPL only removes poles if there is nothing else on them. Kaufer recommended reporting completely abandoned poles to FPL, and they can look into getting them removed.
Miles asked to see reports on recent storms regarding how the power grid worked on the south side, where the lines are now mostly underground, versus the north side, where the underground work has not yet reached.
“When we have a storm, everybody who doesn’t have the underground will like the underground,” Miles said.
Kaufer said that type of data is challenging to get and put together, although he promised to try his best.