'Frivolous lawsuits' will not pressure FPL to provide preferential treatment to Coral Gables

City's tree program has stunted crews efforts to restore power to city, FPL says

By Amanda Batchelor - Senior Digital Editor
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Debris fills the tree-lined streets of a residential area, Sunday, in Coral Gables. Photo by Wilfredo Lee/The Associated Press

CORAL GABLES, Fla. - "Frivolous lawsuits and ludicrous code violations" from Coral Gables will not pressure Florida Power & Light to provide "preferential treatment" to the city, company officials said in a statement.

"We understand that it's extremely frustrating for our customers to be without power," the statement read in part. "That said, frivolous lawsuits and ludicrous code violations that attempt to pressure us into providing preferential treatment for their city will not work."

The city of Coral Gables recently threatened legal action in a letter to FPL, saying the company has been slow to act after Hurricane Irma knocked out power in Coral Gables and most of South Florida.

On Tuesday morning, the city issued a citation against FPL for not restoring power by a Sept. 17 deadline. 

FPL officials said they are committed to restoring power to all of its customers, but said Coral Gables has resisted their previous efforts to trim trees in the area and toughen its electric system.

"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," FPL's statement said. "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."

FPL officials said it's unclear how many of the city's 38,000 trees were "improperly located," causing damage to electrical equipment during the storm, but said they are certain that the trees are the problem.

"There's no doubt that the city's extreme approach to trees is the cause of the problem," FPL said. "More importantly, it threatens the safety of the residents of Coral Gables and the lives of the lineworkers who are trying to restore power."

FPL officials said 97 percent of Miami-Dade County has had power restored and thousands of crews are working around the clock to restore power to the rest of the county.

FPL's statement comes after a class-action lawsuit was filed against the company on behalf of two people, and all Florida residents who are or were without power after Hurricane Irma.

The company said the people who filed the lawsuit have a history of "pursuing frivolous legal action," and said that they were concerned that the suit was filed by a law firm they said is linked to Coral Gables Commissioner Frank Quesada.

Below is FPL's full statement:

"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 recently learned 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."   

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