Metro paid $15,210 too much for trees along Southwest 157th Avenue, Southwest 288th Street and Avocado Drive in Homestead.
* The county purchased 1,045 Christmas palms from Diaz, a variety that is highly vulnerable to a fatal blight. The trees, planted heavily along Southwest 32nd Street and Southwest 248th Street, could whither and die within several years, palm experts said -- with the disease moving swiftly from tree to tree where the palms have been planted in rows.
Even Metro's top landscaping adviser said they shouldn't be used, and questioned why they were included in the contract. Cost to taxpayers: $141,075.
"My personal opinion is we shouldn't be planting any Christmas palms, " said Paul Carey, the parks department's chief landscape architect. "They are highly susceptible to lethal yellowing."
* In both urban and rural Dade, Diaz's crews have planted hundreds of palms close to power lines and even under them, creating a potential problem -- and additional cost to taxpayers. As the trees grow into the lines, they must be trimmed or cut down.
Homestead Electric Service officials complained in January that the county was allowing its contractors to plant trees under electric power lines. "The concern is that and the fronds will come in contact with the wires and customers may get a service interruption, " said Sergio Descalzo, an electrical engineer for the city of Homestead. "It's what we call a nuisance."
Rodriguez, the Diaz Farms spokeswoman, said the company planted all of its trees according to the county's directions -- and that eventually the trees will grow tall enough so that the fronds no longer will interfere with the wires. "After a while, it won't be a problem, " she said.
From the start, Metro's handling of Diaz's contract left the door wide open for abuse. Example: County representatives didn't measure and handpick trees for the projects as permitted under the agreement.
Instead, Emilio Fontana, a county landscape architect, said he "eyeballed" a field of palms at Diaz and roped them off to reserve them.
Fontana, citing 40 years of experience in the landscape business, said all the trees he reserved were at least 28 feet tall. But he never measured them.
"I cannot measure all the trees. I am too many years in my life, " said Fontana, 74. "It was too much for one person to check. What they pulled from the fields is not my responsibility."
At The Herald's request, Fontana checked trees planted along Kendall Drive, where Diaz charged $129,000 for 430 royal palms that were supposed to be 28 to 30 feet high. Fontana selected two: One measured 19 feet, the other 20 feet.
"These are not the ones that I saw, " Fontana said. "They are much smaller."
No one was told to check the size of trees until recently.
Guilio Miglio, the project manager supervising Diaz's plantings for public works, said it wasn't his responsibility to check the sizes of trees -- but that he did notice obvious problems and reported them to his bosses. His job was to make sure trees didn't block the view of motorists or interfere with utilities.
"I wasn't asked to approve or disapprove the quality or size of the palms, " he said. "I don't know whose job it was. We were moving so quickly, I didn't have the time."
Miglio told his bosses in December that Diaz bills were out of line after checking royal palms planted along Southwest 117th Avenue. Diaz had billed the county $300 each for palms that were supposed to be 28 to 30 feet tall.