PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — Tropical depression Eta may not cause major problems in Tampa Bay, but it’s a good reminder that we’re still in the midst of hurricane season.
With that in mind, Pinellas County leaders are on a mission to ensure the electricity stays on in some of the most storm-prone areas of the county during the next tropical storm or hurricane.
Gulf Boulevard is about to look a lot different. Crews are working to remove all of the overhead utilities including power lines and moving the lines underground to be better protected during inclement weather.
Beach business owners are breathing a sigh of relief as the work begins in Indian Rocks Beach. Just mention power outages, and it’ll bring back a lot of bad memories.
Hurricane Irma knocked out electricity for days.
Power outages often cost Will Hayes at Old Florida Cigar and Bait his precious shrimp, which he sells to eager fishermen.
“My shrimp survive on oxygen and if the power goes out, they don’t live too long,” he explained.
Matthew Loder at Crabby Bill’s lost thousands of dollars in food during Hurricane Irma.
“In the restaurant business particularly with food, if temperatures fluctuate and there are problems, just because we come back in and the power is back in doesn’t mean it’s good. We have to toss everything to be safe,” Loder elaborated.
Now crews are moving the power, cable and phone lines underground and that makes Bill Queen, the mayor of North Redington Beach, ecstatic.
“It’s going to be a heck of a lot better,” he said.
The $35 million project is being funded by Penny for Pinellas half-cent sales tax. Only two beach communities, Clearwater Beach and Indian Shores, already have all of their utilities underground. The rest of the beach communities can now schedule the work and be reimbursed by county leaders.
“What’s exciting about it is when you come out here, you can see how good it looks. It’s so beautiful,” Queen added.
In North Redington Beach, power lines have been removed from one side of the street. The others on the East side of Gulf Boulevard are scheduled to come down next.
The goal is to have the entire length of Gulf Boulevard completed by 2026. That’s when the interlocal agreement, allowing beach communities to be refunded for the work, will expire.
The agreement includes Belleair Beach, Belleair Shore, Clearwater, Indian Rocks Beach, Indian Shores, Madeira Beach, North Redington Beach, Redington Shores, St. Pete Beach and Treasure Island.
Since Clearwater Beach and Indian Shores already have underground utilities, they can use the allocated money for other projects.
Clearwater will receive $750,000 and Indian Shores will get $500,000, according to Brian Lowack who serves as Pinellas County’s Intergovernmental Liaison.