Palm Beach Post
By William Kelly – Daily News Staff Writer
With the clocking ticking toward construction, the town is scrambling to obtain easements needed to bury utility lines during the first phase of a town-wide conversion to underground utilities.
Phase one is divided into two segments to be built simultaneously – the upper North End from Onondaga Avenue to the Palm Beach Inlet and the South End from Sloan’s Curve to the town limit. The town needs 48 easements in the north and 29 in the south to start work in mid-June.
Kevin Schanen, vice president at Kimley-Horn & Associates, the town’s engineering consultant, told the Underground Utilities Task Force Tuesday that the firm is progressing with the easements, but much work remains.
“There a few folks out there we are having some struggle with,” Schanen said. “I wouldn’t panic. There is so much in play right now, that’s in a good direction.”
In the northern part, 39 property owners have been contacted. Of those, 10 have agreed, and seven others’ easements are completed, Schanen said.
Schanen and the town have asked task force member Susan Gary to help persuade two opposed owners in the North End.
The easements average 10 feet wide by 10 feet deep. They are needed for transformers or switch cabinets placed on cement pads on the ground when an electrical system is buried. Florida Power & Light must have access to service the equipment.
One transformer is needed for roughly every four single-family homes, depending on house size and electrical load. A single transformer may be needed for a large home. Only five switch cabinets are needed for the entire area north of Onondaga.
In the South End, the condominium buildings already have buried lines and transformers in vaults on their properties. But easements are needed to connect the existing underground equipment with the new lines that will be buried in the right of way along State Road A1A.
In the south, dominated by multi-residential buildings, the 29 easements are on property belonging to 21 owners, he said. Of those, 18 have been contacted, and 10 of agreed. None have been completed.
Some owners are traveling abroad, or own multiple homes, and are impossible to reach, Town Manager Tom Bradford said. In those cases, the town is talking to their attorneys or property representatives, some of whom have objected to or questioned the width or location of the easements.
At the same time, Bradford said, some have agreed to the easements even after voting against bonds to finance the project in last year’s referendum.
The acquisition work is being done by Kimley-Horn with help from the town’s staff and law firm, Jones Foster Johnston & Stubbs. Bradford said everything possible is being done to accommodate owners’ wishes.
“A lot of the concerns are back in the hands of FPL, for them to accept modifications and changes,” Schanen said. “It just takes time.”
In the South End, property managers will discuss the easements with their directors at board meetings over the next six weeks, he said.
If all the easements aren’t obtained by the June 15 start date, the project will move ahead as planned, and the easement acquisition will continue concurrently, Schanen said.
Ultimately, the Town Council can declare an eminent domain “taking” in which it notifies the owner of the appraised value of the easement and negotiates in good faith, attorney H. Adams Weaver, with Jones Foster Johnston & Stubbs, has said. If that doesn’t work, a hearing can be scheduled before a judge. The process can take six to nine months to complete, he said.
“That is the only plan B,” Bradford said Tuesday, referring to the eminent domain procedure. “So our position is, we don’t want a plan B. We will work with them until we are blue in the face.”