It's the ultimate power struggle in South Florida: FPL versus frustrated customers. In Palmetto Bay, village officials called an emergency meeting Monday evening allowing residents to vent. Carmen Arostegui voiced her frustration at the village meeting.
"It's not swift. It is hot. We are feeling 100-degree-heat out there,” said Arostegui. “The lack of information to the community and to specific residents is the most frustrating aspect of this experience."
However, not everyone at Monday’s meeting stood in line to speak out against FPL. Palmetto Bay resident Beatriz Herman believes homeowners should also do their part to help with quick power restoration.
"They can’t come and look at every pole and see where is the vegetation. It's your responsibility as an owner of a house to call and say listen this is kind of dangerous please come and cut it. They come right away,” said Herman.
Earlier Monday, MSP Recovery and Dorta Law filed a class-action lawsuit in Miami-Dade Circuit Court. The firms argue that FPL collects storm charge fees from customers, but they say the company was not proactive or prepared before Hurricane Irma. John Ruiz represents MSP Recovery.
"Instead of using that money and being prepared they waited ‘til the storm hit,” argued Ruiz. "Had they done what they were supposed to do, this vegetation would’ve been out of the way and it wouldn’t have caused the delay in restoration as it did."
Sandra Speier, a class representative said she doesn’t see how the storm fee benefited customers.
“My impression of that storm fee was to upgrade the infrastructure. I don’t see anything about upgrading the infrastructure that happened," said Speier.
The City of Coral Gables is also threatening litigation against FPL over the restoration delay.
Florida Power & Light released a statement Monday responding to the lawsuits.
“We understand that it’s extremely frustrating for our customers to be without power. That said, frivolous lawsuits and ludicrous code violations that attempt to pressure us into providing preferential treatment for their City will not work. Our focus is on restoring power to all of our customers, and we will not be moved by self-entitled politicians who are looking for someone to blame for the City’s irresponsibly managed tree program. The fact is the city of Coral Gables has for many years resisted FPL’s well-documented efforts to trim trees and harden our electric system. Unfortunately for our customers in that area, they are now paying the price in terms of extended outages due to hundreds of trees that have fallen into our lines.
While we do not have a precise assessment of the number of City-owned trees that may have been improperly located, resulting in unnecessarily extensive damage to electrical equipment and extended outages for Coral Gables residents, there’s no doubt that the City’s extreme approach to trees is the cause of the problem. More importantly, it threatens the safety of the residents of Coral Gables and the lives of the lineworkers who are trying to restore power.
We have restored 97 percent of Miami-Dade, and thousands of crews are working to restore the remaining customers without power. After restoration is complete, FPL would be happy to work with the City constructively and provide them recommendations on how to avoid some of these problems from reoccurring during severe weather in the future. However, it is important to note, that numerous attempts we’ve made in the past to address the impact of the City’s dense, overgrown vegetation and tree canopy has on the reliability of their residents’ electric service has been ignored.
We learned this evening of a separate, related lawsuit filed on behalf of two individuals who appear to have a history of pursuing frivolous legal action. Frivolous lawsuits are filed every day in America, however, what is concerning in this case is that the suit was filed by a law firm linked to a Coral Gables City Commissioner. We have not yet received a copy of the lawsuit, but we can only assume it’s another attempt to distract from the City’s failure to properly locate and manage its trees, despite having a website that shows the exact location of each of its 38,000 trees.
Our crews have been removing a shocking number of fallen and damaged trees that were apparently planted by the City in dangerous locations far too close to power lines. Other trees appear to have been planted too closely together, preventing their root systems from being able to grow properly and hold the ground securely in high winds. With wind gusts of more than 90 mph recorded in nearby weather stations, it’s no wonder why so many trees came crashing down all over the City.”