Despite opposition from environmental groups and the city’s now-former partners in litigation, Miami commissioners approved a legal settlement with Florida Power and Light late Thursday evening that keeps U.S. 1 power lines underground for decades and pacifies one of the utility giant’s biggest opponents.
Commissioners voted 4 to 1 to authorize the deal, which was only finalized Thursday evening as attorneys for both sides haggled over language guaranteeing how long transmission lines would remain buried along a five-mile stretch of U.S. 1. In exchange for $27 million in payments by the city, the final deal keeps FPL from raising new overhead lines along the corridor for as much as 40 years — an issue that kept the two sides at odds for nearly a decade.
“This was a smart solution,” said Marie Bertot, an FPL spokeswoman, who cast the agreement as a conduit to help the city and utility meet growing demand in downtown. “It helps to enhance the reliability of the electric grid, benefiting all FPL customers.”
The settlement gives the city a significantly reduced price on burying FPL’s power lines, which the utility had previously quoted at around $18 million a mile, and could lead the utility to pay for underground power lines in some of Miami’s swift-emerging neighborhoods. The city had previously argued the state could force FPL to pay for the undergrounding itself, but chose not to push the case any further.
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Though the power lines were the focus of the dispute, the issue had taken on a bigger picture in recent years.
Miami, South Miami, Pinecrest and Coral Gables began fighting FPL years ago after learning the utility planned to run towering overhead lines up U.S. 1 and along the eastern edge of the Everglades from Turkey Point as part of a plan to expand its nuclear power plant. The Miami city attorney’s office, whether for leverage or principle, began challenging multiple FPL applications related to its Turkey Point point plans as environmental groups raised concerns about the plant’s cooling canals and an underwater saltwater plume seeping below the plant.
Coral Gables settled years ago. But early this year, Miami, South Miami and Pinecrest successfully overturned state approval for the new reactors, which coupled with the bankruptcy of planned builder Westinghouse led opponents to believe they were winning the fight.
But FPL continues to seek approval for its new reactors, now with one less opponent after Thursday’s settlement required the city to drop all its legal challenges and agree not to intervene on some 20 other cases.
On Thursday, environmentalists urged commissioners to keep fighting, with activist Laura Reynolds vowing that “together we can give FPL death by 1,000 cuts.”
South Miami Mayor Philip Stoddard and former Pinecrest Mayor Cindy Lerner blasted the settlement and pleaded with Miami commissioners not to give in. Lerner ripped commissioners for being “bought off.”
“We’ve not only had the law on our side, we’ve had the public on our side,” said Lerner. “What you’re doing for FPL is priceless.”
But with the city’s challenges still unsettled, and their initial goal of keeping transmission lines buried nearly in-hand, commissioners agreed to take the deal rather than risk unfavorable court rulings in the future or legislative maneuvering at the state that could up-end its leverage. Only Ken Russell voted against the settlement, which Commissioner Wifredo “Willy” Gort stressed was a “good agreement.”
“We’ve been discussing this for quite a bit. FPL came up with a very high number,” Gort said. “It’s unfortunate the other municipalities feel we’re betraying them.”