The town has failed to secure 20 percent of the private property easements needed for an upcoming phase of utility undergrounding.
Palm Beach officials are struggling to acquire all the private property easements needed to bury overhead utility lines in upcoming phases of the town-wide project.
The easements are needed to locate above-ground metal utility boxes that are essential to the new undergrounded system. Those include Florida Power & Light electrical transformers as well as AT&T and Comcast communications equipment.
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The boxes are situated on concrete pads and screened with landscaping. On average, one easement is needed for every four properties. Most owners have granted the easements, Underground Utilities Manager Steve Stern said.
Currently, the town is short by 20 of the 99 easements required in the Phase 3 South project area, which reaches from the intersection of South Ocean Boulevard and South County Road northward to the alley south of Worth Avenue.
Phase 3 South construction was scheduled to start in May, but is now delayed until July at the earliest, Stern said.
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The project design is 81 percent complete, but the town can’t advertise for bids and move ahead with construction because the easement acquisition isn’t complete, Stern said.
The easement acquisition has been especially challenging in the area by Golfview Road alley and along South County Road south of Worth Avenue.
Stern and Kevin Schanen, vice president of Kimley Horn & Associates, the town’s consultant, have contacted owners and their attorneys and met with them, with some success.
“It’s just a lot of complicated negotiations,” Stern said. “Every situation is unique.”
Town Manager Kirk Blouin sent a Feb. 14 letter to property owners telling them the town may be forced to bypass Phase 3 South until the end of the town-wide undergrounding program in 2026.
“We are only able to deploy the undergrounding improvements when the design is finalized and your lack of support for the program is preventing us from moving forward,” Blouin wrote.
At their meeting Tuesday, members of the Underground Utilities Task Force volunteered to individually join Stern and Schanen and one Town Council member for meetings with the property owners to try to convince them to change their minds.
The town-wide utility undergrounding began in 2017 and is expected to take about 10 years to complete. The project was carved up into eight phases, each with a north and south area.
The town has completed the first phase, in the far North End and in the South End south of Sloan’s Curve, with the exception of completing the utility pole removal in the South End.
Phase 2 North construction (from Esplanade Way to Ocean Terrace) is nearly 80 complete. Phase 3 North construction (from Osceola Way to the north side of La Puerta Way) is 25 percent complete. Construction recently started in Phase 2 South (from Sloan’s Curve northward to the intersection of South County Road and South Ocean Boulevard).
Easement acquisition is moving slowly in Phase 4 North (the south side of La Puerta Way to the north side of List Road), where the design is 69 percent complete, but 23 of the 62 easements needed have not been approved by property owners.
In Phase 4 South (Peruvian Avenue north to Royal Palm Way and the town marina) only 22 of the 62 easements needed have been granted. The design is 55 percent complete.
Design work is 33 percent complete but easement acquisition has not started in Phase 5 North (Country Club Road to Southland Road) and Phase 5 South (in the area of Royal Palm Way, South Lake Drive, and Hibiscus and Peruvian avenues).