By Gary Nelson

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CORAL GABLES (CBSMiami) — Coral Gables city officials approved a plan to sue Florida Power and Light (FPL) for failures in Hurricane Irma, but the suit was put on temporary hold as a contrite attorney for the company told commissioners FPL hopes to reach an agreement without the “need to file anything.”

While commissioners agreed to go forward with the lawsuit, they also directed their staff to try to reach a settlement with the company before filing the suit.

Coral Gables Mayor Raúl Valdés-Fauli said the company had previously been “insulting” and  “arrogant” when the city had tried to talk to FPL.

After Irma, FPL set a deadline for all power to be back but missed it – something the city attorney said put FPL in violation of their agreement with the city.  Coral Gables also says FPL has violated its contract by failing to maintain its equipment.

The lawsuit says in part, “FPL’s failures have put the residents of the city and…other affected cities at risk…Unfortunately for FPL the storm exposed the systemic failure…to maintain its systems.”

FPL argues they had issues getting into neighborhoods to have power restored because of a lot of vegetation that impacted their access to the power lines – making restoration of power a slow process.  The city says FPL not only has the ability but the duty to keep trees along its power lines trimmed back.  There is also the issue of an aging, weakened system.

“We want our infrastructure, our 60-year-old transformers to be updated, we want our poles not to break because of old age,” Mayor Valdes-Fauli said.

Imagine, said City Attorney Craig Leen, if Irma had been a major hurricane.

“If this were like a category two or three hurricane, we believe these kinds of common sense changes, that are required by the contract anyway, would help fix it,” Leen said.

When the Gables first talked about filing a lawsuit, FPL was dismissive.  The company used words like “frivolous” and “ludicrous” in reacting to the possible lawsuit. An attorney wrote in one letter that the city was “uninformed” and “wholly gratuitous” in its position.

That same attorney, Alvin Davis, spoke to commissioners Tuesday, seemingly with hat in hand. Davis told commissioners that “diplomacy” may have suffered during the crisis of the hurricane.

“Will we sit down and talk, yes.  So, if you want to know if we will talk, before you need to file anything, yes, we will talk,” a contrite Davis said.

Commissioners voted unanimously to permit talks with FPL, but insisted they result in hard, specific improvements to the company’s system or the lawsuit will go forward without any further vote.

The city wants FPL to honor its contract, maintain and trim trees along utility rights-of-way, and replace aging transformers and poles.

City Attorney Leen said Coral Gables’ efforts could benefit many cities who saw massive outages and delayed restoration efforts in Irma.


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