Why is there an above-ground pipeline blocking traffic near the new FPL building?

FPL is paying to connect a water main under the railroad tracks and Alternate A1A without disrupting traffic through horizontal directional drilling.

FPL water main

Motorists using the Kyoto Gardens Drive shortcut between Military Trail and Alternate A1A got another lane closure — and quite a sight — the past few weeks. 

A giant black pipeline, like an uncoiled snake, hovered above the road on steel-borne rollers for a fifth of a mile as crews in orange and green vests danced around it, positioning sections of pipe with buckets attached to shiny yellow Deere and Komatsu excavators.  

FPL water main
The assembled 24-inch FPL water main on July 26 stretches for a fifth of a mile along Kyoto Gardens Drive. (Joel Engelhardt photo)
The 24-inch water main stretched for a fifth of a mile on July 26. (Joel Engelhardt video)

Workers welded one pipe to another and clamped them shut with a protective seal. A conveyor-belt-like drill rig on a moveable platform drove the fluid-cooled drill bit deeper and farther into the earth, ultimately dragging the nearly 4-foot diameter, high-density polyethylene pipe along with it into position.

Under the Florida East Coast Railway tracks it sank without disrupting a freight car. 

Under the six lanes of Alternate A1A it went without disrupting a motorist. 

FPL water main
The underground path of the water main installed by FPL. (Seacoast Utility Authority)

Ultimately, it would connect to a water main buried under a parking lot near the Whole Foods store at Downtown Palm Beach Gardens, where it could rest for the next 100 years.

And when they were done with the outer casing, the workers pieced together a second pipe, just as long but in diameter smaller by nearly half, to thread within.

FPL office building
The FPL office building on July 26. It is expected to open to up to 1,000 employees by year end. (Joel Engelhardt photo)

It’s all courtesy of Florida Power & Light, builder of the immense, 1,000-employee office center off Kyoto Gardens Drive at PGA Boulevard and Interstate 95.

The water main work began in early July, closing the just-completed, rerouted RCA Center Drive. By July 26, the 42-inch outer casing had been installed and workers began assembling the 24-inch water main to fit inside. Work is expected to be complete by September. 

The Juno Beach-based FPL, a subsidiary of Next Era Energy, had to replace an existing water main that crossed its site and needed the link to the west to meet its 270,000-square-foot office building’s hefty water needs, particularly for fire protection.

The office building, under construction since 2020, is expected to open before the end of the year, an FPL spokeswoman said.

horizontal directional drilling
The 42-inch outer casing is capped as it awaits the insertion of the 24-inch water main on July 27. (Joel Engelhardt photo)
Horizontal directional drilling
The head of the pipe, used to pull the outer casing through the hole, which is about 4 feet in diameter. (Joel Engelhardt photo)
Horizontal directional drilling
The drill platform. (Joel Engelhardt photo)
FPL water main
The 42-inch outer casing stretches for a fifth of a mile, blocking RCA Center Drive at Kyoto Gardens Drive on July 21. (Joel Engelhardt photo)
FPL water main
FPL’s 24-inch water main under assembly along Kyoto Gardens Drive on July 27. It extends for one-fifth of a mile. (Joel Engelhardt photo)

Horizontal directional drilling

“Thirty years ago, you could just dig a trench and put a pipe in it,” said Rim Bishop, executive director of the Seacoast Utility Authority, which is inspecting the work and will own the pipeline when it is done.

Now, it’s not so simple.

Roads and structures are in place. And technology called horizontal directional drilling has evolved to allow a drill rig to put a line 25 feet under the ground and come out a fifth of a mile away.

“It is expensive. But it’s not as expensive as digging up the roadway,” Bishop said. “And it’s not as disruptive. Community convenience is something that has a high value here.” 

FPL water main
An aerial view of the 86-acre FPL campus and the path of the water main. (Seacoast Utility Authority)

FPL can’t say the cost of the job because the work isn’t done, spokeswoman Debbie Larsson said. She did not release the name of the contractor overseeing the work.

But Seacoast has used the technology to bore under Northlake Boulevard in one place and the Earman River in another. Installing a pipe under the Intracoastal Waterway north of PGA Boulevard in 2017 cost $204,000.

“It’s ‘the thing’ in this day and age in installing new pipeline in established communities,” Bishop said.

Editor’s note: On Aug. 1, workers began inching the 24-inch pipe into the 42-inch outer casing. By end of the workday on Aug. 2, the one-fifth mile water main was gone, buried within the outer casing.

Aug. 1: The 24-inch water main begins to disappear down the hole, under the railroad tracks and Alternate A1A, to emerge at Downtown Palm Beach Gardens. By the next day, it is gone.

Want to learn more? Check out this video of a horizontal directional drill job by the Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co.

Here’s OnGardens.org’s February 2021 story detailing the FPL office building construction

© 2022 Joel Engelhardt. All rights reserved.

Author: Joel Engelhardt

Joel Engelhardt is an award-winning newspaper reporter and editor based in Palm Beach Gardens. He spent more than 40 years in the newspaper business, including 28 years at The Palm Beach Post. As a reporter, he covered countywide growth, the 2000 election and the birth of Cityplace in West Palm Beach. As an editor, he oversaw probes into the opioid scourge, private prisons, police-involved shootings and more. For seven years, he worked on the paper’s editorial board. Joel left The Post in December 2020. He and his wife, Donna, have lived together in Palm Beach Gardens since 1992.

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