Town should pause undergrounding
In reference to the Sept. 9-12, 2018, article by William Kelly, the language that caught my attention was the “escalating cost” of the undergrounding project. What he was referring to is the $2 million gap between the guaranteed maximum price from Whiting-Turner and the estimate from town engineers.
This represents a 42.5 percent increase for work on the southern half of Phase 2. There are eight phases, each with a north and south component. If we proceed on this course, these type of negotiations will have to occur another 12 times over the next four to five years.
Unfortunately, we find ourselves in a perfect storm with labor and material costs rising alongside inflation and interest rates.
We are at the mercy of markets we can’t control and of contractors with more work than they can handle.
Even the most adamant proponent of undergrounding should see that we must pause to assess what is happening before this project, ill-conceived from day one, goes off the rails.
My suggestion is simple: Stop the work on undergrounding temporarily (and, yes, it can be done) to assess its efficacy.
The Town Council should convene a panel of experts to determine if what we are doing is sustainable.
FPL officials are critical to any discussion and solution. They should be our partners if the decision is made to proceed. They should also contribute to the cost.
In addition to the extraordinary disruption that will occur as this project moves toward Midtown, it is now clear that the managers of this project have no idea of what the final costs will be, much less how to control them.
What also deserves your attention is the crisis in the Police Department.
Thirteen officers have left in the past year, in addition to the large exodus of our best and brightest after the 2012 pension debacle. And don’t forget the $100 million dollar shortfall in the pension plan.
We cannot and should not — given the exposure the town faces regarding the pension shortfall and enormous costs of shore protection — engage in another massive project with a cost that will be in the range of a couple of hundred million dollars if we are lucky!
Even the affluent will tire of throwing money into a black hole.
The council, despite notions of how well things are going, needs to take a hard look at what is really happening.
The idea of apportioning huge amounts of money to undergrounding when the ranks of our police department are being decimated seems to be based on, to me, a distorted view of what’s essential and what is not. For the mayor to say that we are becoming a “training ground” should give you some idea of the gravity of the situation.
Make no mistake here, the Town Council (not the town staff, our long list of advisers and consultants, the so-called Citizens Oversight Committee) owns undergrounding and they are going to have to fix it one way or another.