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Power company tweaks pole reduction plan

Tampa Electric Co. officials say they're moving forward with their compromise proposal to shrink massive transmission poles near Egypt Lake, even though residents there say the plan is unacceptable.

Company Vice President for Energy Delivery Tom Hernandez mailed a letter to residents Friday presenting a timeline for the project and highlighting a small tweak.

Hernandez said all of the 125-foot metallic poles west of Armenia Avenue will be removed from the northwest Tampa neighborhood. The whole project should be done by November 2005, ending when the poles have been replaced by smaller ones.

"In the first version of our proposal, we still had some 125-footers remaining," said company spokesman Ross Bannister. "What our engineers have been able to do is sweat it down even more. They've gotten creative."

The earlier announcement had contained no firm timeline. However, the work cannot be started until the utility secures permits from the county for new poles, under new restrictions passed since the current poles were installed.

Paul Antinori, an attorney for many of the residents, called the announcement "lip service." He had not received a copy of the letter, which he learned about from reporters.

And he said it does nothing toward settling the group's lawsuit against the electric utility.

"It doesn't change a thing," Antinori said. "My people are just as anguished as ever over the presence of those structures. If they want to compromise on this case, and get it solved, they need to contact me. They need to call and discuss this before going to the press."

Tampa Electric shocked residents of Egypt Lake last summer when they began erecting the 125-foot-tall, 3-foot-wide poles along residential Kirby and Sitka streets without notice. Hillsborough commissioners slapped new regulations on utility pole locations afterward, and Tampa Electric announced a compromise proposal in November.

Under the revised plan, poles on Kirby Street would be replaced with smaller, 70-foot-tall poles, and the tallest poles on Sitka Street would be replaced with 90-foot-tall poles. One large electric circuit on Kirby would be moved to Waters Avenue, but the other would remain on Sitka.

Residents said they wouldn't be satisfied until all the transmission poles were removed.

Hillsborough Commissioner Kathy Castor, who took on the residents' cause and led the effort for tougher restrictions on pole locations in the future, called Friday's announcement "a major step in the right direction."

"It's a good starting point for discussions on how to protect the neighborhood, how to make them whole again," she said.

_ Bill Varian can be reached at 226-3387 or variansptimes.com.

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