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Cable installation creates a rift between companies, residents

Some residents say the digging left cracks in their driveways.

The new underground television cables were intended to deliver some prime channel surfing to the Preserve at Cypress Lakes.

But about a dozen residents also ended up with a squabble about hairline cracks in their driveways. Now about the only thing both sides of this suburban skirmish seem to agree on is that the last two months have been frustrating.

"I'm really getting aggravated with the situation, very aggravated," said resident Lisa Vice, 32. "They wanted to play hardball, and now they have got it. We can dish it out, too."

The dispute began in June soon after workers dug a 30-inch-deep trench across lawns and under driveways to bury Time Warner Communications' cable lines. Vice and some of her neighbors on Cypress View Drive and Lake Cypress Circle say that the process of boring tunnels for the lines beneath the driveways caused tiny cracks in the concrete.

When they tried to point that out, Vice and two of her neighbors say, they encountered a corporate runaround.

"They demeaned us like we were stupid and we didn't know anything," said Vice, echoing the sentiments of her neighbors Denise Leone, 31, and Patricia Muenzner, 32. "So now it's like, "You've got it now. You're getting both barrels.' "

But officials at Time Warner and the companies hired to do the work deny they caused the cracks and said they were the ones subjected to verbal attacks.

"The only thing I'm disappointed in is that some of them have been very . . . I guess hostile is the word," said Jeffry Knight, president of Clearwater-based Knight Enterprises, which was hired by Time Warner to do the work. "We have done everything

we can to be accommodating, fair and reasonable. They have been extremely hot-tempered."

The three aren't the only ones complaining about the work. Ten other homeowners have hired an attorney, Clarke Hobby, to help with their complaints about damage to their driveways and lawns. Hobby said he has had no problems dealing with Knight Enterprises and P.H.T. Utilities, the subcontractor of the work.

"They have been more than fair," Hobby said. "Hopefully, we will reach a resolution in the near future. The parties are working toward an amicable resolution of the matter prior to any litigation."

But the discussions with Vice, Leone and Muenzner _ who are not part of the group that hired Hobby _ have been something entirely different, company officials say.

"(Muenzner) went at us like a pit bull," said Rafael Rodriguez, co-owner of P.H.T. Utilities."She was very aggressive, cussing and asking all kinds of questions. If she hadn't been so aggressive, things would be different."

Muenzner acknowledges that she was less than friendly to workers and company officials. But that's only because they refused to admit that they caused the cracks and because they treated her badly when she spoke to them, she said.

"They just tried to weasel their way out of it," Muenzner said. "I don't understand why they are trying to make a fool out of us. They just made me feel stupid, and that's not right."

Company officials say they are willing to replace the section of the driveway that has the cracks. Claims adjusters for Auto-Owners Insurance, P.H.T. Utilities's insurance company, recently wrote letters to Leone and Muenzner offering to replace the cracked section of their driveways for $1,470.

But they want their entire driveways replaced, not just the section that was damaged. Leone said it would cost about $4,000 to replace her driveway, according to estimates she has gotten.

Linda Chambers, Time Warner's vice president of business affairs for the Tampa Bay division, said the offers to replace the cracked sections are more than fair.

"We are not trying to shuffle them off by any stretch of the imagination," Chambers said. "We are really working hard to get it resolved."

Time Warner plans to get estimates of its own on the damage to confirm that the figure that is being offered to the residents is fair, Chambers said. "We believe that it is fair. We just want to confirm that what we think is true, is true."

Knight said Muenzner and Leone have been adamant about the $4,000 figure and have refused to back down.

Residents also say that the trenches were dug too far into their property. According to engineering plans filed with Oldsmar's Public Works Department, the neighborhood has a 7{-foot utility easement between the edge of the sidewalk and homeowners' properties. The cable lines have to be put inside that easement.

Hobby said the lines were buried on private property, missing the easement by a few feet. Knight and Rodriguez disagreed, saying the cable lines were placed within the easement and that the damage may have been caused by earlier utility work or the normal wear and tear of driveways.

Rodriguez said his company bores utility lines under about 80 driveways a week. In 10 years in the business, this is the first time he has had such difficulty with residents, he said.

Knight and Rodriguez point out that just because the insurance company is offering to replace the cracked section doesn't mean they admit to causing any damage. Rodriguez said about 30 driveways in the subdivision were cracked before his company did any work.

"From a customer-service standpoint, we are willing to replace the sections in question," Knight said. "But no way did we crack the driveways."

_ Staff writer Ed Quioco can be reached at (727) 445-4183 or at quiocosptimes.com.

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