Trailer park in power struggle


Article Courtesy of Palm Beach Post

Wednesday, October 20, 2004


LAKE WORTH They survived two hurricanes. They're thankful for that. But many residents at Tropical Trailer Gardens many of whom are on welfare and disabled and have been without power since Hurricane Jeanne say they would rather go through another hurricane than experience the hell they've lived in the past few weeks.

They can't get anyone they tried the city, the county and even the Federal Emergency Management Agency to repair the trailer park's damaged utility poles and lines because the park's utility system falls under the jurisdiction of the owner, Wes Cox. During Hurricane Jeanne some wires wrapped around each other and shorted out the main electrical box.

Residents say Cox has refused to fix the system because he's hoping the city will eventually condemn the park, so he can expand his nearby warehouse.

For now, residents are running extension cords through their trailers there is power in only half of their homes borrowing money to buy generators or sleeping with their doors open. A couple say they've stopped paying rent.

"His excuse is that the city won't give him permission to fix the power," said Annie Johnston, 55, who lives with her grandson, Zack, 13. Johnston said she lives on welfare and can't afford to leave.

"He doesn't care about anybody. He just wants us out of here," added Melvin Mogul, 55, showing off his mosquito-bitten arms. Mogul is on disability. He's got three herniated disks and peripheral arterial disease.

Cox says the city is demanding he completely redo the park's power distribution system, which he estimates will take "big bucks" and three to six months to complete. He'll have to hire an electrical engineer to draw up a plan and do the work. He has found one but said, "she's busy and it's hard to find an electrical engineer that will work with Lake Worth anyway."

"I can go in there myself and fix that problem in a couple of hours, but they won't let me," Cox said. "We're just kind of dead in the water."

When asked about his plan to expand the warehouse, Cox said he has not yet made a formal decision.

"If the meter blows, 'cause who knows what kind of shape it's in, the city is going to condemn it (the park) and they're going to make everyone leave. That wouldn't be my fault, in my opinion," he said.

Cox sent a letter to residents Sept. 30 saying that because the project is complicated and expensive the park could close within nine months. He told residents that if they choose to move to another park, their deposits would be refunded.

After Jeanne, the city responded to a 911 call there about sparking wires, Mayor Rodney Romano said. Officials cut off power to those wires, but left power to the half of the trailer park that was safe. Officials also found Cox trying to make illegal repairs himself, Romano said.

"He has to have an electrical contractor, who has to have a permit," Romano said. "He sent in one electrical contractor to speak with our people. Our people met with him. That person disappeared and never came back. A second electrical contractor, the same thing, and a third electrical contractor.... So meanwhile, half of these people have been broiling in these metal boxes for days."

Cox said he has urged city officials to grant him a permit, but has not heard back from them. And when his contractors went to the city to apply for a permit, officials told them their permit application must include a drawing by an electrical engineer.

As the city doesn't have power to force the owner to provide electricity to tenants, Romano said he called state Sen. Jeff Atwater. He is hoping Atwater can get the state attorney general or the commissioner of agriculture to pressure Cox to do "what (he is) morally obligated to do" or bring in a receiver. Residents say they are trying to file a class-action lawsuit.