When they first landed, Midge St. Martin thought sci-fi movie.
Steel and concrete poles 100 feet high and as big around as old oak trees plopped down right across the street in a neighbor's front yard. Then came another, and another — mixed with some buzzing sounds, all alien, at least to her.
"It sounded like UFOs were coming in on us," the 83-year-old St. Petersburg resident said, laughing.
Turns out, she never got word from anyone that Progress Energy Florida was coming down her street to erect 2 miles of new electrical transmission lines, mostly along First Avenue S in the heart of the city.
Progress is connecting its 51st Street substation on Central Avenue to its Central Plaza Station on 31st Street S, near the main YMCA building.
The project began in mid February and will run through the end of the summer.
"It's an upgrade to our transmission lines," said Sterling Ivey, a spokesman for the utility. "It's going to help us relieve some overloaded lines at our substation and help us respond better to the Maximo area as well as northeast St. Petersburg."
The mammoth gray poles have fueled anger among homeowners when utilities carve paths through their neighborhoods. From Fishhawk Ranch to Apalachicola, Progress Energy and Tampa Electric have in recent years shocked residents with the placement of their power lines.
Along First Avenue S where Progress already has anchored four of the towering power poles some 23 feet into the ground, residents aren't voicing anger as much as confusion.
Many of the residents are renters, who don't plan to live in the pathway of the poles for long.
"I'm a renter," said 35-year-old Charles Dawkins. "The only thing that has bothered me about it is the construction itself. I just hope it doesn't do anything weird."
Others say they, too, can ignore the rather unsightly electrical towers because there has been at least one benefit of workers installing the poles: The project has temporarily reduced the number of traffic lanes from three to one along a stretch of First Avenue, forcing motorists to cut their speeds.
Drivers often speed through the community, endangering children at play, runners and cyclists, they say.
"It's like a race track here in the morning," said 77-year-old Bob Sparks.
Sparks' son owned a house along First Avenue S, with the poles in the line of sight. Sparks and his wife from Akron, Ohio, have been taking care of the house since their son passed away.
About the project, Ruth Sparks said: "It's been a blessing because these idiots have to slow down."
But as with Midge St. Martin, the Sparks never saw a notice about Progress' plans.
Ivey said the utility held community meetings to discuss the project in the past couple of years. But many people who may have recently moved to the area may not have been aware of the company's plans.
When St. Martin first got a glimpse of the poles, she thought new traffic lights were going in, which would have helped with some of the traffic.
But when she looked at how tall they stood, she just couldn't imagine what they would do.
"All I know is they came in and just started to work," St. Martin said. "We were trying to figure out what it all was."
Ivan Penn can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2332.