By Rachel Brown Hackney
Florida Power & Light Co. (FPL) has a program underway on the island that involves the burying of power lines, SKA President Catherine Luckner reported to members during their Feb. 6 meeting.
She indicated that the first news she received about the project came fro m a pediatrician who is a member of the nonprofit and who lives on Beach Road. The woman “has never called with a complaint,” Luckner added, but she was “very scared.”
Near the end of 2019, when the doctor’s children were home from college, they all were awakened about 2:30 a.m. by “what sounded like a big explosion,” Luckner said, recounting the pediatrician’s story. And “big bright lights were shining straight into all of their bedrooms.”
The doctor “went running out in her night clothes, thinking it was a disaster,” Luckner added. Then she saw “30 guys out there working.”
They were breaking through concrete, apparently, and tunneling underground, Luckner said. However, the pediatrician told Luckner she had received no prior notice about the work in that area.
“It was almost like an earthquake,” Luckner pointed out of the disruption. “It was that violent.”
“The machine that they use is big,” SKA Director Robert Luckner added of the crew members. They are drilling through rights of way, he pointed out.
“They were very, very respectful,” Catherine Luckner noted, when she and Robert — who is her husband — talked with them.
Catherine Luckner also said that she had been in touch with Lisa Cece, special district coordinator for Sarasota County, who is the liaison between county staff and the Siesta Key Village Maintenance Corp., which oversees the upkeep of the Village.
When the SNL asked whether Cece could provide more details about the FPL work, Cece responded in a Feb. 10 email: “That program is called Storm Secure. I have gotten some information lately from FPL, and have asked if I can find out all of the areas where this is underway as it has an impact on street lighting, present and future. FPL responded that they cannot provide that to the County. These neighborhoods go through Design and then later Construction, so it takes some time in each area to complete [the work].”
SNL also contacted FPL’s public relations staff for this region, to try to get more details about the work on the Key.
George Bennett, senior communication specialist with the company, provided the following information in a Feb. 13 email: “Florida Power & Light Company has one undergrounding project under construction in Siesta Key. It involves 30 homes on Sandy Beach Avenue and is part of FPL’s Storm Secure Underground Program [SSUP], a pilot to study cost-effective ways to replace overhead power lines with underground lines in select neighborhoods.”
Sandy Beach Avenue is in the Treasure Boat Way neighborhood, which is on the northern part of the Key.
“Construction began this month and is scheduled for completion by June,” Bennett wrote.
“Outreach to customers involved in the project began in mid-2019,” he continued. “Three other SSUP projects — involving about 50 customers combined — are planned for Siesta Key in 2020 or 2021 and those customers have been contacted.
“FPL has also been in contact with a homeowner association in Siesta Key that expressed interest in paying FPL to replace its overhead power lines with underground power lines,” Bennett added.
“With regard to the account of a resident being awakened late at night, without more information about the location and date of this incident and whether it involved an FPL project, FPL is unable to comment,” Bennett concluded his email.
FPL’s webpage about Storm Secure provides the following details:
“FPL is continuously looking at opportunities to enhance the reliability of our service in good weather and bad.
“In the aftermath of Hurricane Irma [in September 2017], we saw that the number one cause of outages was debris blowing into and trees falling onto our power lines. The trees, many of which were outside of FPL’s easement or public right of way, and were beyond where FPL trims, damaged our equipment, power lines and poles. Trees also blocked roadways, which slowed the restoration efforts.
“Since 2006, we have invested nearly $4 billion into the grid to make it stronger, smarter and more storm-resilient. These investments include hardening and undergrounding certain power lines. And, we saw how this benefited our customers by minimizing damage and speeding the restoration process after a storm like Hurricane Irma.
“That’s why we started the Storm Secure Underground Program, a three-year pilot project to underground certain neighborhood power lines — typically the power lines in backyards or side streets. “This pilot will … help us determine how cost effectively we can underground these power lines to restore power faster after severe weather, as well as enhance day-to-day reliability.”