Project to bury utility lines now under way in Surfside Beach

akelley@thesunnews.comOctober 2, 2012 

— Phase two of a project to replace the utility lines is under way in Surfside Beach, which is following the lead of other beachfront neighbors.

The town is joining Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach by moving utility wires underground in the oceanfront district with hopes of improving the look of the skyline and making the area more storm ready.

John Adair, Surfside’s public works director, said utility crews are already working to install wires, currently strung on poles on Ocean Boulevard between Third Avenue North and Third Avenue South in the town.

That’s primarily the oceanfront business district in Surfside Beach, but also includes residential and rental properties.

North Myrtle Beach recently completed similar projects and has more in the works as part of a five-year plan, said city spokesman Pat Dowling.

So far, North Myrtle Beach has completed the underground conversion from Second Avenue North to Seventh Avenue South on U.S. 17. Next year, work will be done in the Barefoot Resort and Golf area between Ocean Creek Resort and 46th Avenue South, and officials hope to extend the work into other areas.

“We have lots of major roadwork to do on all major thoroughfares in the city,” Dowling said. “We’d like to merge the overhead conversion with each such project so that we get it all done at one time.”

That’s what Myrtle Beach is doing in a three-year road project that started last month on Third Avenue South.

Surfside Beach’s residents and visitors shouldn’t realize any disruptions to services or traffic this time around, Adair said. Those won’t occur until early next year, when that portion of Ocean Boulevard is milled and paved.

Mollie Gore, with Santee Cooper, said customers likely won’t notice when their power is switched from the utility pole lines to the underground lines, which will likely occur in March.

“It should be done without any inconvenience to customers,” she said. “But if there is any need to disrupt service customers will be notified.”

The project in Surfside Beach was started during the offseason last year when crews actually broke into the asphalt installing conduits and vaults for the wires which Adair said are basically pipes underground that house the wires.

That left the strip of road looking like a patchwork quilt of pavement for the summer. But, that will soon change.

Adair explained moving the wires underground will help the town look better, but the primary reason is safety.

In the event of a hurricane, or any storm with major winds, the wires strung on poles could be pulled down leaving the town without power even after the storm has passed.

“Besides the aesthetics of it, it’s better in a storm,” he said. “If we have a hurricane coming through with 75 mile per hour winds, we’d have power lines down in the street. This means there will be less power lines in the middle of the road.”

In Myrtle Beach, underground utilities are stipulated in zoning codes last updated in 2011 where lines serving new developments must be placed underground. In that instance, it’s predominantly for appearance.

Downed power lines could also slow the recovery after storms, Adair said, because wires on the ground make it harder for cleanup and rescue crews.

“It would just further hinder rescue and clean-up operations having those wires out in the street,” he said.

Dowling said there’s an additional safety factor involved at road intersections in North Myrtle Beach.

“Fewer overhead wires result in less confusion and a clearer line of sight for motorists,” Dowling said.

Gore said the project doesn’t represent a major undertaking for the electric company.

“It’s just different,” she said.

At first, the new wires require less maintenance. As they age, however, maintenance is more difficult for both troubleshooting and repairs because everything is underground.

Still, she said, housing the utilities underground makes them more hurricane resistant.

The wires should be installed underground in early March. Then the utility poles will come down and the road paving will begin. The entire project should be finished before the next tourist season.

Lee Electrical was awarded the bid for the project, which cost $753,329.

Santee Cooper has exclusive service rights in Surfside Beach and ultimately footed 85 percent of the bill covering both construction and engineering fees with monies set aside for improvements in the town through a franchise fund. The franchise fund was also utilized in North Myrtle Beach’s most recent project.

Contact AMANDA KELLEY at 626-0381.

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