TAMPA — Tampa Electric's million-dollar project to replace scores of power poles along several Ybor City streets is nearly done, but hard feelings remain.
Residents complain they were caught by surprise this year when the utility replaced old wooden poles on their streets with larger steel or concrete poles.
Now residents say they feel disrespected and even deceived.
Some worry that the new poles are ugly enough to jeopardize Ybor's status as a National Historic Landmark District.
"There's a huge difference visually, and visually makes all the difference in the world in a nationally designated historic district," East Ybor resident Jim Singleton told two Tampa Electric executives at a meeting Tuesday.
During the meeting, the utility's director of community relations, Stephanie Agliano, acknowledged the company should have provided better information to residents about the project before work began.
"I'm not here to make excuses," she said. "We obviously missed something."
In pre-construction notices sent to residents and neighborhood groups, Tampa Electric called the project the Port of Tampa project, not the Ybor City project.
Nor did it show what the new poles would look like.
"I received a letter; however, the letter did not totally explain actually what was going to take place," said Tony LaColla, president of the Historic Ybor Neighborhood Civic Association.
As a result, a public meeting about the project at the Italian Club was sparsely attended.
The new poles are along parts of 22nd Street and N 26th Street, as well as parts of Third, Fifth and 12th avenues.
The largest are 70 to 85 feet tall.
Agliano gave no indication that the poles would be removed but said she was looking for suggestions that the company might be able to address, or improve the way it handles such matters.
One idea — burying the lines underground — didn't get far.
It's costly, and the utility does it only when someone else, like a developer or neighborhood, pays for it, Agliano said.
Another suggestion was to paint the new poles so they more closely match lamp posts in the Latin Quarter.
Another was to take out the few wooden poles that were left behind to carry telephone or cable television lines. In some spots, the old and new poles stand mere feet apart.
Residents also said the utility should present such plans to groups like the Barrio Latino Commission, which is responsible for preserving the historic fabric of Ybor City and maintaining its architectural integrity.
Other historic Tampa neighborhoods have similar boards.
While state law gives city officials very little authority when it comes to permitting such utility projects, bringing the commission into the loop would increase the chance that residents are informed about what's planned for their neighborhoods.
LaColla told Tampa Electric executives that he knows the company isn't required to go before the Barrio Latino Commission, but neither is Hillsborough Community College, which he said is now doing so as a courtesy.
Tampa Electric said replacing the poles was ordered by the state Public Service Commission after the hurricanes of 2004 tore down transmission and distribution lines across Florida.
In 2008, the utility began a three-phase project to "harden" the strength of its poles and lines in and around the Port of Tampa.
The third phase of that project, which started earlier this year, replaced 28 large transmission poles and 47 smaller distribution poles in and near Ybor.
The state required the utility to replace the old wooden transmission poles with something stronger, and the company said the only poles it knows of that meet the requirement are concrete or steel, spokesman Rick Morera said.
Tampa Electric did a similar pilot project to harden its lines and poles leading to St. Joseph's Hospital.
Morera said no similar projects are currently planned elsewhere in Tampa.
Richard Danielson can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3403.