By Michele Dargan, Special for the Civic Association -- The projected construction costs of burying the town’s utility lines have gone up close to 10 percent from the $90 million project approved in a town referendum last year, said Jeffrey Smith, chairman of the town’s Undergrounding Utility Task Force.

Mr. Smith gave a short update to the Palm Beach Civic Association’s directors during a luncheon meeting Thursday at the Sailfish Club.

Photo: Jeff Smith, Underground Utilities Task Force Chairman

“Jeff is a longtime resident of Palm Beach and a highly respected architect in the community,” said Bob Wright, chairman and CEO of the Civic Association.

At the February meeting of the task force, the town’s engineers presented a draft version of an updated opinion, putting construction costs at $98 million, which includes contingencies and inflation, Mr. Smith said.

“The engineers are still working with FPL, AT&T and Comcast to reduce the costs of the project,” he said.

The task force members received a draft version of the master plan for the town-wide undergrounding of utilities and the 174-page document is available for viewing on the town’s website

The master plan calls for 15 phases over an 8-year period, Mr. Smith said. The work will begin at the north and south ends of the town and will reach the center of town by 2024, he said.

“Because the project is over budget, the task force has suggested doing a peer review of the engineers’ work to validate their approach as well as the probable cost of construction,” Mr. Smith said.

Mr. Smith thanked the Civic Association for offering to partner with the town on the expense of the peer review up to a maximum of $50,000.

The Town Council voted Tuesday to partner with the Civic Association and to execute a request for proposal from engineering firms of national recognition to provide a peer review. The peer review will include analyzing Kimley Horn’s approach, the master plan, scheduling, sequencing, phasing and the probable cost of construction.

“We also want them to identify areas of potential risk in the project,” Mr. Smith said.

The work is scheduled to begin on June 15, but there are hurdles to overcome before that can happen, he said. Two lawsuits were filed that challenge the language on the ballot referendum.

“The lawsuits have not been heard yet, so the town cannot issue the bonds or get the money to begin the project,” he said. “These lawsuits don’t even have court dates yet. For the undergrounding to stay on schedule, the town will have to look at interim or bridge financing to begin the project. This could be a bank loan or a line of credit that could be repaid after the bonds are issued.”

To keep the project on schedule, the engineers will need to begin their design work for phase two north and phase two south by May 1. Since that also was going to be paid for by the bonds, alternate financing will need to be obtained to keep the engineers on schedule, Mr. Smith said.

The task force will receive a revised opinion of probable costs at its April meeting and also will review financing options at that time. The goal is to make a final recommendation at that meeting in order to get on the Town Council’s April agenda, he said.

 Photo: Capehart Photography

Directors Spring Luncheon March 16, 2017