The $8,465,000 grant amounts to more than 8 percent of the entire townwide conversion to underground utilities, which the town estimates will cost $102 million, said Steven Stern, underground utilities program manager.
(TNS) — The Federal Emergency Management Agency has awarded the town nearly $8.5 million to remove utility poles and bury overhead power lines.
The town was notified Tuesday that it had been approved for the money under FEMA's Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, said Steven Stern, underground utilities program manager.
The $8,465,000 grant amounts to more than 8 percent of the entire townwide conversion to underground utilities, which the town estimates will cost $102 million, Stern said.
"That is great news," said Susan Gary, a member of the town's Underground Utilities Task Force. "That is nearly 10 percent of what we have anticipated the entire [islandwide utility undergrounding] project will cost."
FEMA's Hazard Mitigation Grant Program funds become available following the president's declaration of a major disaster.
In this case, the disaster was Hurricane Irma, the powerful 2017 hurricane that swept through South Florida on a path that caused widespread destruction in the Southeastern United States.
The mitigation grant money is intended to strengthen communities by improving buildings and infrastructure that people use every day.
"Severe wind events can cause poles and/or overhead lines to fall, damaging property and causing both power outages and risk of electric shock," FEMA said in a release. "Burying these lines can increase the resilience of the power grid and reduce impacts to people and property."
The release cites a 2018 report from the National Institute of Building Sciences that found that one dollar spent on hazard mitigation will save more than six dollars in recovery and rebuilding costs.
Donald Gulbrandsen, vice chairman of the Underground Utilities Task Force, said the town is potentially saving $600 million in storm recovery by spending $100 million to bury its utility grid.
"I believe this is the new lead item in our communications with the community," Gulbrandsen said. "To those who have been a little skeptical, I think this more than validates our work in the project."
Kevin Schanen, vice president at Kimley-Horn and Associates, the town's undergrounding consultant, said underground utility conversions have been gaining momentum since the Florida Public Service Commission's post-Hurricane Irma report presented "quantifiable data" showing underground systems outperformed their overhead counterparts in withstanding storm damage.
The town is burying all overhead power, cable television and phone lines in eight phases, each of which is separated into north and south areas. Work began in 2017 and is slated to be finished in 2026.
Phase 1 is virtually complete, and construction has begun on portions of phases 2 and 3.
Stern said the FEMA grant will be devoted to Phase 5 because of a requirement that it be wholly applied to a future expenditure. The town has already spent some money on the design for Phase 4, but not on Phase 5, he said.
Construction is scheduled to begin on Phase 5 in May 2021 and take about 18 months to complete, he said.
Phase 5 North will occur between Country Club Road and Southland Road. Phase 5 South will be between South Lake Drive and Hibiscus Avenue, from Peruvian Avenue to Royal Palm Way; and Royal Palm Way to Seaspray Avenue, from the lagoon to the ocean.
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