Crude power play

A Times Editorial
Published January 14, 2007

Tampa Electric Co. should be ashamed of how it treated a neighborhood the utility defaced with power poles. Three years ago, without warning residents beforehand, the company planted 12-story power poles in a working-class neighborhood called Egypt Lake, north of downtown. TECO settled the case last week after two state courts robbed the residents of justice. The poles are a monument to the company's bad faith and the adage that money talks.

TECO installed the towers along two-lane streets, crowding out lawns and driveways and turning the neighborhood into a tangled mess. The move was so galling, the Hillsborough County Commission, no enemy of business, rushed new rules into place to keep TECO from ruining another established neighborhood. As public pressure mounted, TECO went on a charm offensive. President John Ramil dangled the possibility the poles would be removed. But rather than do the right thing, TECO insisted moving the poles to a nearby commercial corridor would be too costly. The courts bought that line, putting money over people, prompting the case to end with a secret financial settlement.

A case with such broad public implications for land use, property rights and public health should not close on confidential terms. But the real injustice is how a regulated utility repaid the community it serves.