After massive Tampa Electric poles suddenly appeared in Egypt Lake, commissioners want to ensure it doesn't happen again.
By BILL VARIAN
Published September 10, 2003
TAMPA - For now, residents of Egypt Lake will have to endure the view of the new skyscraper power poles towering over their neighborhood.
But Hillsborough commissioners took a step Tuesday toward ensuring that no other neighborhoods face a similar fate.
Commissioners voted unanimously to start working on ordinances to make it more difficult for large transmission poles to be erected in residential areas.
Commissioners would have the right under the new rules to judge large power pole projects based on whether they are compatible with the area where they are proposed.
The new rules also would require greater notice for residents, well in advance of when the poles are installed.
The added regulations may be the first of their kind in the Tampa Bay area if approved. County planners say they checked with surrounding counties and could find no similar rules to use as a model.
"No. 1, it will protect neighborhoods from intrusive transmission power poles through extensive requirement for public notice, public hearings and avoidance of residential areas," said Commissioner Kathy Castor, who has led the effort.
Current rules only anticipate more practical and technical concerns. New poles can't block sight lines and traffic intersections, for instance, or be installed in the middle of sidewalks.
County development regulators say compatibility is not something they can take into account in reviewing power pole proposals under the current rules.
And that is largely why Tampa Electric Co. was permitted to install large new transmission lines near Egypt Lake this summer that are carried on metal poles as tall as 125 feet and nearly 3 feet wide, raising the hackles of residents there.
TECO Energy Inc. officials expressed their willingness to assist the county as it fine tunes the new regulations.
"We think it's a good starting point, and we look forward to working with Hillsborough County staff as it progresses," said Laura Plumb, spokeswoman for TECO.
With the vote Tuesday, the county staff will now draft the legal language to make the changes happen. Public hearings on the initiative could take place later this month or in October.
"The important thing was we got the ball rolling today," Castor said.
County Administrator Dan Kleman has presented commissioners with a general framework for a new process that would involve the public more and spell out what size poles are regulated.
As proposed now, the new regulations would:
Apply to transmission lines that carry more than 138 kilovolts of power on poles standing 75 feet or taller, with widths of 22 inches or more. That's significantly smaller than the 230 kilovolt lines strung through Egypt Lake.
Allow county commissioners to judge applications for new transmission lines based on whether they are visually and aesthetically compatible with surrounding residential development. The poles could still be approved, but the utility seeking to put them up would have to show that the route they are proposing is better than other options.
Require utility companies to notify residents and hold at least one community meeting before seeking permission to erect new poles.
Require a public hearing before the new transmission lines are approved, and notification of residents living within 250 feet of the right-of-way or easement where the poles would go. Public hearings would have to be advertised in the newspaper, and homeowner groups registered with the county and located within a mile of the lines would have to be notified.
Grant exemptions to the permitting process for utilities that put their transmission lines along existing major roadways.
Residents of Egypt Lake say they are glad to see commissioners taking action. However, they are still anxious to learn what will happen to the poles in their neighborhood.
Tampa Electric has floated the prospect that the poles could be removed based on the expression of community outrage over installation of such large poles in a neighborhood. Residents there have recently erected mock tombstones in their yards, and tied black ribbons around some poles.
"Our efforts have really paid off for the community as a whole. We're proud of that, we really are," said Joe Rowe, president of the Lake Egypt Estates Civic Association. "The only thing is that it's frustrating to see that they're still stringing the wires on these monstrous poles through our neighborhood."
Tampa Electric has said it needs to continue installing and wiring the poles, including on Kirby and Sitka streets in northwest Hillsborough, which have drawn the most protests. The company says it needs to test its circuits by no later than November.
But company officials have said they will hold a series of community meetings to discuss other options for the transmission route, and possibly take the poles out altogether.
A chance to speak
Tampa Electric Co. announced Tuesday that the first meeting for the community to comment on the poles in the Egypt Lake neighborhood is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Oct. 4, a Saturday, at Oak Grove United Methodist Church, 2702 W Waters Ave.