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Coral Gables Threatens to Sue FPL Over Hurricane Irma Power Outages

Coral Gables Threatens to Sue FPL Over Hurricane Irma Power OutagesEXPAND
Photo by Doug Markowitz
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As of Friday afternoon, almost a quarter-million of Florida Power & Light's customers in Miami-Dade remained without power after Hurricane Irma. The widespread outages have already proven deadly: In Hollywood, eight elderly residents at a nursing home died without air conditioning, and a 7-year-old Lakeland girl was killed by carbon monoxide poisoning from a generator powering a home that had lost electricity.

In Coral Gables, where one woman told city leaders she is still using a generator to power her daughter's lifesaving respirator, top officials are rightly pissed off. At an emergency meeting Thursday night, the Gables' city commission unanimously voted to explore a possible lawsuit against FPL, and just this morning, City Attorney Craig Leen fired off a cease-and-desist letter demanding that power be restored to residents by Sunday night.

"They are a monopoly. They get profits from what happened, and they are not prepared for the aftermath," Leen says of FPL. "We are having to bear the burden for FPL's lack of preparation."

Peter Robbins, a spokesperson for FPL's owner, NextEra Energy, declined to respond.

According to Leen, at least six trees that have been tangled up in dangerous downed or low-hanging power lines are still blocking city streets, trapping residents in their neighborhoods. But city workers have been unable to clear the trees from the roadways because they must first wait for FPL to respond.

From a public safety standpoint, Leen says the lack of air conditioning is "dangerous to senior citizens, dangerous to anyone that is sick in any way, dangerous to children, dangerous to pets." With 45 percent of the city still without power as of Thursday night, the city attorney says it's clear FPL is wholly unprepared for a major hurricane.

"What it tells me is that if we had a Category 4 or Category 5 in Coral Gables, they would not have been able to restore power to us for weeks," Leen says. "They make money off power. They should have the infrastructure to deal with a tropical storm."

In addition to sending the cease-and-desist, Gables attorneys will consider suing the utility company or filing a complaint with the Florida Public Service Commission, the state agency that's supposed to regulate FPL.

"If [FPL] had competition, this would not be happening. They're not going to lose one customer, no matter how long they take," Leen says. They're getting an inordinate profit from their business and doing very well, but not putting in adequate infrastructure."

Below is a copy of the city's cease-and-desist letter, which gives FPL until 5 p.m. Friday to remove the trees on the downed power lines and until 11:45 p.m. Sunday to restore power citywide.

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