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Non-binding Referendum Concerning Undergrounding of Utilities

Do you favor the undergrounding of Surfside’s powerlines and other utilities in order to improve safety and promote sustainability and resilience, at an estimated cost of $16,000,000 to $18,000,000?

Summary Explanation:

Currently, many of Surfside's power and utility lines are located above-ground. This ballot question is intended to gauge residents' interest in undergrounding Surfside's power and utility lines. This is a non-binding ballot question.  Based on a majority of residents’ responses, Surfside will proceed to explore and implement undergrounding of power and utility lines and, if required, return to the voters for final financial approval at a future referendum. 

OverheadWires Underground-wires powerline_powerpoint

This is a concept rendering. The underground wiring photo above has been altered to help demonstrate how a Surfside block would look with utilities and powerlines underground. It is not an exact representation. Light poles will need to be added back as part of this project.

View Resolution No. 2020-2702 re: Undergrounding of Utilities 

Historical Information

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: I want to know all the details on how this project will affect the Town’s finances, where the boxes will be placed, etc.  When will we know this?
A: This is exactly what is at the heart of this ballot question. The Town is asking if there is interest in expending the funds to pay FPL and an engineering firm to develop the detailed plan which will answer all these questions.

Q: What’s the next step?
A: In the November election, Surfside voters will be asked whether they support removing poles and moving overhead utility lines underground. This is a non-binding question; however, if the majority votes yes, the result will be taken as strong evidence that Surfsiders want the Town to pursue undergrounding. 

The construction for the underground project will not start for at least a year.  It also goes quickly since the new wires go in the 5-foot easement the Town controls and the entire road does not have to be replaced. 

Q: If residents agree to move forward and develop the plan, will they have to vote again on moving ahead with the project?
A: The only way that residents will not have to vote again on this project will be if the Town does not have to issue debt. This would only occur if the Town was not able to secure grants large enough to substantially pay for the project. It is important to note the Town is already exploring all the grant opportunities available.

Q: What’s the purpose of this project?
A: “Undergrounding utilities” means removing utility poles and moving overhead utility lines underground. There are approximately 23 miles of above ground electric cable, 537 poles and 278 overhead transformers in Surfside. There are also miles of above ground AT&T and Atlantic Broadband cables and related devices. All of this will be gone when the project is complete. There are a number of benefits, including enhanced aesthetics, increased safety and reliability during storms, and a reduction in power outages caused by high winds or flying debris. Undergrounding also reduces the need for tree trimming in advance of a hurricane or tropical storm.

Q:  Why go to all this trouble?
A: First and foremost is reliability. Underground systems perform significantly better than overhead systems during extreme weather conditions and in day-to-day operation. Second, there is broad consensus that hurricane wind damage to below ground systems is much less than above ground systems. On the other hand, underground systems can be vulnerable to flooding. That is why this project includes waterproof switch gear boxes. The transformers on the ground are relatively easy to replace compared to replacing a pole particularly if that pole is in a backyard.

Q: What’s the estimated cost?
A: Based on a cost study done in 2013 which estimated the costs at approximately $15 million dollars, it is currently estimated to cost between $16 million to $18 million. In order to finalize the cost of undergrounding, Surfside must pay approximately $60,000 to Florida Power & Light for a binding cost estimate and also engage with a civil engineer to provide an estimate for other related costs.

Q: How would Surfside pay for undergrounding?
A: There are a number of potential funding sources the Town could pursue if it decides to commit to undergrounding. It is anticipated that several if not all of the below would be used to pay for this important infrastructure project

  • Grants: FEMA and the State of Florida both have grant programs for hazard mitigation activities, potentially including undergrounding. The Town is actively pursuing all eligible grants.
  • Discounts and credits: Florida Power & Light excludes the costs of undergrounding non-storm-hardened facilities from the total cost Surfside would have to pay. Additionally, FPL offers a 25 percent reduction in construction costs for local governments.
  • Voluntary proffers: In the discussion of undergrounding that took place in 2013, the Town looked at voluntary proffers from developers as a way to cover the costs.
  • Use of General Fund Reserves: The Town could utilize a portion of the General Fund reserves.
  • General obligation (GO) bond: The Town would issue bonds which would be repaid over time from the Town’s General Fund. It is the stated goal of the Commission to attempt to repay the bonds within the existing millage rate structure.

Q: Why must some of the equipment in an underground system remain above ground?
A: Conduit and cable can be placed underground, which eliminates poles. Switch cabinets need to be accessible to utility crews at ground level for timely maintenance, outage repairs, rerouting power and other functions. Green transformer boxes will still be located above ground, although not on every property.

Q: Can I landscape around these boxes?
A: It is expected that yes, as long as the landscaping does not deny access to the box and is placed at a minimum of 3 feet from the sides and 8 feet from the doors of FPL’s equipment. 

Q: Is it fair that folks who are already underground should help pay for this project?
A: Yes. The underground areas today were not paid for by the builders of the projects along Harding and Collins Avenues so the underground cost was not included in the price of the original units. These undergrounding costs were funded by the FDOT when Collins and Harding Avenues were upgraded so everyone’s gas taxes paid the cost including non-Surfside residents. Further, we are a community where everyone will benefit by the aesthetic and reliability benefits and our downtown will be much improved.

Q: Will my property value increase when the project is complete?
A: Most likely, however, property values are governed by many complex factors including investment in the property itself and the market factors for real estate in general.

Q: Will my front and/or side yard have to be dug up?
A: Yes. The wires that go to your house above ground will come in below ground. There will be an individual plan to bring the wires underground on your property. We will work with every impacted property to minimize the impact.

Q: Do you energize one home at a time with the new system? Will I have a break in service?
A:
No. An entire group of homes must be energized with the new system and then the poles can be removed. Every home or business in a defined area must be connected before the area is converted. Not one home or business will be left out and the down time is very brief and you will be notified well in advance.

Q: What impact will undergrounding have on reliability? 
A:  According to Florida Power & Light, underground power lines perform 50 percent better than overhead power lines under “normal” conditions, i.e. in times when there are no severe weather events. Undergrounding also is a well-known measure that communities take to reduce the likelihood of outages due to high winds and debris resulting from hurricanes or tropical storms. FPL reports that during Hurricane Irma, underground power lines in its service area “performed 85 percent better than overhead power lines because they were not affected by wind-blown debris, lightning and other elements.”

Q: Will there be an opportunity to hear more on this? 
A: Yes.  On Tuesday, October 6, 2020, the Town will hold a Town of Surfside Ballot Questions Community Meeting. The meeting will start at 7 p.m. and residents will have an opportunity to hear a presentation, as well as ask and receive answers to their questions. Residents can participate by logging into Zoom on the night of the meeting: https://zoom.us/j/92248582377#success 

Q: What happens if I’m unable to attend the meeting? How can I submit questions and/or get answers?
A: The meeting will be recorded and made available for residents to watch on the Town website and Channel 663. For questions, email the Town Clerk at smccready@townofsurfsidefl.gov or clerk@townofsurfsidefl.gov.         

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