Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Help Me Howard: Public Works
We have all heard of David versus Goliath, and sometimes that's how a property owner feels when they get into a battle with the government. One South Florida woman has a massive city generator beside her home that she says pours dangerous fumes into her house. She fought the city and lost, which is why she turned to Help me Howard with Patrick Fraser
WSVN -- If you grow up in the neighborhood around the old Orange Bowl, one memory instantly comes to mind.
Silvia Blanco: "We had the Dolphin games, we used to park, we had the Hurricane games, we used to park, and we've had many good memories in this house."
Silvia grew up in her mother's home here, a great neighborhood with one drawback.
Silvia Suarez: "Always about the smell in all moments. It's horrible, horrible."
The smell comes from the Orange Bowl pumping station generator, put here in 1953 to drain all the streets around the Orange Bowl.
Silvia Blanco: "This is a residential neighborhood, and this is probably commercial, so it shouldn't even be here, just like putting an electric generator on top of a house."
But it's not the look that scares Blanco. The noisy generator runs once a week for an hour, and, if the wind is blowing her way, the dangerous fumes pour right into her house.
Silvia Blanco: "Both bedrooms face the water pumping station. When they start, the exhaust comes out of those big fans and it filters in. It filters in through the window."
Once the fumes were so strong, Mrs. Suarez had to be rushed to the hospital.
Silvia Suarez: "Because I have headache."
Then came what they thought was good news, the city decided to replace the old generator with a more efficient 250 kilowatt generator. The bad news, it's diesel, and the tank was put on her side.
Silvia Blanco: "If it leaks diesel, I don't know if it could be dangerous for a fire. It says 'no smoking--combustible.' It should not be near our house, it should be on the other side."
All the warning signs don't make Silvia and her mother feel any better. In fact, looking at this thing leaves them feeling hopeless.
Silvia Blanco: "If it is necessary to keep this pumping station, it's fine if they agree to do the concrete wall really high and put the generator maybe on the other side."
But the city's pumping station is necessary to keep the streets from flooding, so what can they do about it, Howard?
Howard Finkelstein: "This is a difficult legal issue. The pumping station provides a public service to many people, but that does not give the city the right to pump loud noise and dangerous fumes into the area and deprive Sylvia of her right to enjoy the piece and quiet of her home. The city should be given a chance to fix it. If they can't the courts can."
When I spoke to Miami's assistant public works director Francis Mitchell, he told me they had to rework the old station to bring it up to code, that they changed the muffler to reduce the loud noise and that the diesel tank is double walled to prevent any problems.
He then asked what else he could do to make Silvia happy? Plant a hedge, we told him, we will do it, he said, and they did, putting in 35-feet-tall ficus plants, and Howard says if that doesn't work, Sylvia can turn to the courts.
Howard Finkelstein: "If this continues to be what the law calls a nuisance, then Sylvia can go to court. A judge won't shut down the pumping station, but he might force them to modify it and pay Sylvia money for the loss of enjoyment of her property, and it's possible the judge could force the city to buy her home if the problem remains."
Silvia Blanco: "We feel pretty good about it, we are happy."
Happy and hopeful that everything done will make their home a little more enjoyable.
Silvia Blanco: "They finally came and did something to help. Because of you, Channel Seven, we are very thankful. Once they grow, they will look nicer, and we are not going to be able to see anything over there."
Patrick Fraser: "Now, the generator is only running once a week for an hour now, but, of course, if the electricity fails, it will run for as long as there is no power.
"If you have problem with a city or county, don't give up. If you get shot down, try someone different, a supervisor, an elected official, and, if they won't help, try that lawyer with the ponytail and his silly sidekick.
Problems left you feeling powerless? Need someone to generate some solutions? Contact us, we'll pump up the volume till someone hears you.
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