By Rachel Brown Hackney
As manager of the Siesta Key Village Maintenance Corp., island resident Michael Shay keeps a sharp lookout for anything in the Village that is amiss. And since he usually adheres to an early morning schedule for his first reconnaissance mission of the day, he readily notices whether streetlights are functioning, or not.
Just after Christmas, on Dec. 28, 2018, Shay saw that four of the new LED streetlights were not working in the sharp curve on Ocean Boulevard just north of Gleason Avenue.
That curve is notorious as the scene of accidents. In fact, in the wee hours of Dec. 27 — with those lights not functioning — another crash occurred there. The incident was reported to the Sheriff’s Office at 1:56 a.m. on Dec. 27 at 4420 Ocean Blvd.
On Dec. 28, 2018, Shay decided to contact a Sarasota engineer for Florida Power & Light Co. (FPL) who helped Shay resolve a long delay in getting Ocean Boulevard streetlights shining again after Hurricane Irma came through the area in September 2017.
In an email to the engineer, Shay wrote, “There are 4 of the new LED streetlights all in a row that are out and I was only able to get the pole #’s for 2 of them; the other 2 are too high up on the pole. We already had 1 accident at this curve early on 12/27: this is a dangerous curve and I am concerned it is worse in the dark!”
The procedure FPL has advised the public to follow when streetlights go out is to report the identification number on each of the affected poles, which is what Shay was referring to in his email.
Thus began a weeks-long process that began to seem futile, Shay reported.
“It’s just odd,” Shay said during a Jan. 11 telephone interview. “You wouldn’t have four bulbs that go out at one time,” especially after FPL just replaced those bulbs in the summer of 2018. Representatives of the company, in fact, said FPL planned to remove all of the incandescent lights in poles on the island and replace them with LED equipment.
The only area that did not see a change was Siesta Village, which is handled by the Maintenance Corp. and Sarasota County.
No matter how many attempts Shay made to get the information about the four poles on Ocean to someone who could get the lights back on, the lights remained out.
On Jan. 14, in response to questions about the situation, county Media Relations Specialist Brianne Grant wrote in an email, “County staff has coordinated with FPL to identify all four poles and locations along the curve that are within the Siesta Key Special Tax lighting district. FPL is working to resolve the issue. Last Thursday [Jan. 10], they had one lane [of] partial closure [so they could] trim the trees on the south side of the roadway area. Restoration of the lights should follow.”
SNL also talked on Jan. 14 with a spokesperson for FPL, to try to find out what was going on. Richard Beltran said that he was told that an FPL crew would be investigating the situation either that day or on Jan. 15, and he promised to report on the results of that investigation.
Finally, on Jan. 15, as Shay was walking to Siesta Key Chapel for a meeting of the Siesta Key Condominium Council, he reported, he saw a bucket truck at the corner of Ocean Boulevard and Gleason Avenue — where the entrance to Siesta Key Chapel is located. Shay said he asked the worker with the truck if the worker knew about the other three streetlights to the north, and the worker said he did not.
Yet another light was out, too, Shay noted: the one about 75 yards south of the speed radar sign on Ocean Boulevard, opposite the entrance to the property at 4660 Ocean Blvd.
The worker said he was unaware of that situation, as well, but he would check it out.
Shay reported that the worker was the only person with the truck.
Finally, Shay thought, he would see at least the four streetlights working again the next morning.
He did not.
Additionally, about mid-morning on Jan. 17, Shay said the power went out at his home, which is in the area close to that dangerous curve. He reported the outage to FPL immediately, he said, and he learned that a total of 53 customers were affected.
That same morning, Shay continued, he saw another bucket truck at what he calls “dead man’s curve,” along with a worker who appeared to be trying to repair one of the four lights. Shay added that he spoke with a second person who was directing traffic, but that worker did not seem fluent in English, so Shay was unsure if the man understood what Shay was asking him about the other lights.
At least the good news, Shay noted, was that his power was off for only an hour.
On the morning of Jan. 18, Shay went out again to check on the lights in the curve. They were all on, he reported, adding a series of exclamation marks in an email to express his delight.
By the way, he pointed out, he had not mentioned earlier that two streetlights at the entrance to the Banyan Club, near the sharp curve, also had been dark. On the morning of Jan. 18, they were shining as well, he said.
As a result, Shay said, “I do not believe that the issue was the bulbs or photo cells or any other parts to the lights.” He felt the source of the problem had to have been a piece of equipment to which all those lights were connected. He was curious, he added, about what had transpired the previous day to make the 53 customers lose their power for an hour.
On the afternoon of Jan. 18, SNL learned answers from the FPL spokesperson Richard Beltran. The problem, Beltran explained, was “a bad connection” involving the four streetlights. Wiring had to be replaced, he added.
“Sorry it took some time,” Beltran said.
“I’m not surprised,” Shay replied when that information was relayed to him.
And after all that, though, Shay pointed out, the streetlight opposite 4660 Ocean Blvd. was still not working. “I’m going to give it some time,” he added, before submitting another report to FPL about that light.