Judith Gummere recently spent more than $1,000 to spruce up the front yard of her home on Arteaga Way in the Village of Haciendas of Mission Hills.
After discovering a door hanger from SECO Energy, it appears her attractive front yard is in jeopardy.
“I came home from a trip to find the door hanger from SECO. I had no idea what they were talking about. I called and was not met by a very helpful person but finally she did tell me what other addresses had the buried electrical equipment so I could go look at it. I did and never had seen anything like that in my yard. It was HUGE. I could not have missed it,” she said.
A friend with a metal detector came over and they located the SECO equipment, buried 13 inches under her yard.
“Now we are told we have to clear away all that ground (we never had any ground brought in) and do so for at least 3 feet all the way around. We will have a small swimming pool in our front yard and there will not be much left for landscaping,” Gummere said.
When she bought her home in 2012, it had already been landscaped by The Villages.
She said it’s time for the Developer to get involved and take some responsibility for the SECO situation roiling Florida’s Friendliest Hometown.
“The Villages should be handling this problem since they covered the item in question. I know I did not bring in 13 inches of anything to cover it. I also wonder why SECO never in more than eight years ever bothered to come check on these items. Why now SECO?” she asked.
The Village of Fenney has been hit hard by the new SECO mandates.
“Many of us have received the notice from SECO and have had to remove trees and shrubs, including some put in place by the Developer. We were all quite surprised, as we knew that we had to keep our power meter area clear, but no one ever mentioned the electrical box in the ground in the front of our homes,” said Sherrie Aly of the Village of Fenney.
The resident of the Bougainvillea Villas noted that landscaping space is already tight in villa communities in The Villages.
“Given that we are villas, we have very little front yard as it is. Now we’ve had to clear quite a sizable area around the electrical area,” she said.
Aly added that SECO has been “fairly aggressive about this,” returning and updating their notices to ensure all necessary landscaping changes were effected.
SECO claims it’s a matter of safety.
“The whyfors of the need for clearance on all sides are safety driven. Multiple employees often work on this type of equipment while it’s energized. SECO is focused on the safety of our field employees and contractors who have to maneuver around this equipment with a six-foot hot stick and bulky testing equipment,” said Kathryn Gloria, SECO vice president of corporate communications and energy services.
She said landscaping which is blocking equipment could prevent SECO from doing its job.
“Battling shrubs, potted plants and other obstructions can delay restoring power and prevent us from doing so safely. One slip or a difference of a sliver of an inch could result in an employee or contractor getting seriously injured or killed,” Gloria said.
She pointed to warning decals on SECO equipment explaining the need for 10 feet in front and 3 feet on each side.
“Clearance decals are placed on the transformers before they are installed on members’ property,” Gloria said.
Villagers contend that SECO’s tactics – including threats to cut off power – are heavy handed.
Rick and Rochelle Larson of the Village of Bonita said a SECO representative visited their home and told them they will need to remove a bush.
“We received a threatening letter telling us to remove the bush and if they had to send someone out to our house again, they would charge $50. In addition, they threatened to cut off our service if we did not comply,” Rick Larson said.
They called SECO and asked if there is an appeals process. They were told there is no method of appeal.
“Not only do they expect us to rip out our landscaping for a reason that we don’t believe is legitimate, but it should be at our expense and that we are responsible to email photos to them within 30 days to show compliance,” Rick Larson said.
Villager Carole Apa rushed to get estimates ranging from $300 to $1,800 to dig out her shrubs and move them in accordance with the SECO mandate. She said she has received conflicting information from SECO.
“I feel there is much confusion as to the information they are giving out to residents,” Apa said.