Florida: Apalachicola residents protest powerline plans

Citizens hold mock funeral to draw attention to their efforts to bury a section of powerlines that would otherwise mar their historic waterfront district

The waterfront in Apalachicola, Florida.
A rendering posted at the SaveApalach website shows what the powerline might look like.

SUMMIT COUNTY — One of my favorite stops during a 6,000-mile, 15-state road trip last summer was historic Apalachicola, Florida, a Gulf Coast town that hasn’t yet succumbed to the over-development that  mars so many parts of the Sunshine State.

After finding a pet-friendly motel, we discovered the municipal fishing piers, where my son enjoyed full-moon angling session that yielded a big catch (and release), dog-friendly restaurants featuring the best oysters we’ve ever eaten and friendly locals who were ever-so-glad to share the secrets of their little haven with us.

I wrote about our stay in Apalachicola a couple of times, and that’s probably why this weekend I received a press release from a group called SaveApalach, letting me know that the tiny town, located 75 miles southwest of Tallahassee and 60 miles east of Panama City, is battling Progress Energy over its planned installation of 100-foot power poles through the downtown district.

The plan to install a massive powerline through the town threatens the streetscape along the picturesque waterfront, where working shrimp boats still dock and unload their wriggly cargo to be processed at a couple of local packing plants.

With construction crews literally knocking at the door, the citizens group is making a last-ditch effort to try and convince the utility company to delay the project for three months. The idea is to try and find the money to put the powerlines underground for the short stretch in order to preserved the town’s character.

This weekend, more than 100 supporters staged a mock funeral to draw attention to their cause. Marchers ended up at Riverfront Park to give eulogies for their beloved town.

A mock funeral procession in Apalachicola, Florida, as residents presage the "death" of their town's historic character. PHOTO BY TIM WHEELER.

I have pleasant memories of visiting the park early in the morning, letting the dogs run and chatting with shrimp-boat captain Fred Dennis, then later with shrimp-packer Walter Ward. It seems unbelievable that the power company wouldn’t be willing to work toward some other alternative.

Mock eulogies in Apalachicola, as residents protest plans by Progress Energy to erect giant powerline poles right through the town's historic waterfront. PHOTO COURTESY MARK FRIEDMAN.

According to a spokesperson for SaveApalach, The city Tuesday issued a unanimous resolution on Tuesday asking Progress to stop work for 90 days and talk about alternatives, including burying the lines. We haven’t heard back from them since the resolution was sent.

“Progress has said it could cost up to $10 million per mile to bury the lines, but one of the things we’re asking them to do is give us an accurate, fair and realistic assessment of cost. If we only bury the lines downtown, it would be less than a mile,” said B.J. Terhune.

The new lines would connect two existing substations, each about 20 miles on either side of Apalachicola.

“They say they are upgrading the lines and poles, which are outdated but they really are running more power elsewhere,” Terhune said. ” Tom Daly was quoted as saying, ‘They are building an electric superhighway where they once had an electric footpath.'”

Immediate plans now are in attorney Arthur “Buddy” Jacobs’ hands. He’s trying to avoid litigation, but he’s prepared to go that route if Progress won’t honor the stop-work request. He also has been in touch with U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, among others, to seek support.

Progress Energy  does have a decades-old franchise agreement with the city, but obviously that doesn’t mean they are doing things in the best interest of the city, she said.

The group’s attorney, Arthur “Buddy” Jacobs, is trying to avoid litigation, but he’s prepared to go that route if Progress won’t honor the stop-work request. Jacobs also has been in touch with U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, among others, to seek support.

Florida residents gather in downtown Apalachicola to hold a mock funeral for their town, as Progress Energy plans to erect powerline poles in the town. PHOTO BY MARK FRIEDMAN.
Power to the people! PHOTO BY TIM WHEELER.




6 thoughts on “Florida: Apalachicola residents protest powerline plans

  1. We live in Apalachicola and are working diligently to bring awareness our cause. Thank you so much for caring enough about our little piece of historic paradise to share our efforts. Isn’t it amazing how visitors can see the obvious need to preserve the character of Apalachicola by burying the lines, but Progress Energy can’t see beyond their profits.

  2. One would think that the company’s P.R. department would have it’s collective head out of the sand and see that burring the lines out of sight would be a big coup for it, the company. One wonders though in today’s atmosphere of doing business in the cheapest way possible! These utilities know they have the customer hostage, but never seem to understand the near sighted actions they often take, or even care about. You can be sure that the executive’s don’t want those ugly power lines in their front yards, so why should the people here have to suffer that fate?

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