Hurricane Irma’s impact stopped being felt in Jacksonville Monday afternoon, and it was soon thereafter that Gov. Rick Scott was in town.
Scott, who added Duval County to his ask for a major disaster declaration post-Irma on Monday evening, visited a local hurricane shelter with New York Mets’ minor league prospect Tim Tebow, a legend in these parts for his tenure as Florida Gators’ quarterback a decade ago.
Duval will join St. Johns, Flagler, Clay, and Putnam as Counties benefiting from federal help, which includes reimbursement for debris removal and individual assistance for those whose properties were impacted by the storm.
Tuesday saw Scott surveying damage from the sky, with Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry. The two reprised a role last seen in the wake of Hurricane Matthew 11 months prior, with Scott coming to town to assess damage after that storm.
After Gov. Scott’s visit, Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio made trips to the Duval Emergency Operations Center early in the afternoon.
Each arrived separately, and each had their own takes on the storm and the path forward afterward.
Nelson noted that, in addition to the 365 water rescues that were made in Duval County when the storm surge came in, there were 120 rescues in Clay and St. Johns.
Nelson described the hurricane as a “very unusual one, that covered the entire state,” one with “real surprises” for everyone.
Water was the big surprise for Jacksonville, of course, as the storm surge flooded the city for hours on end Monday.
“Water … surprised places like North Florida,” Nelson said.
The storm drew strength from turbocharged waters on each side of the peninsula, of course. Nelson noted that “measurements show that sea level has risen eight inches over the last40 years” off the Miami Beach coast, a rise that was accompanied by the heating of the ocean itself.
“That is expected to increase,” Nelson said.
Miami Beach, said Nelson. has had to spend “tens of millions of dollars on expensive pumps” to deal with a mean high tide — and floods are still part of life down there.
“If that’s happening when there’s not a storm, what happens when there is a storm? We’d better get ready for it, because it’s happening before our very eyes.”
Nelson also addressed post-Andrew building codes, noting that the Florida Legislature passed a law to relax those codes.
He’s not a fan of that move.
“Let’s keep these strong building codes,” Nelson said, noting that there was a vast difference in how new construction and older buildings fared during Irma on Florida’s Southwest coast when he toured it earlier this week.
Rubio actually agreed with Nelson regarding the building codes.
“People may not like it, but you know when you’re in a house rated post-Andrew, you have a lot more security about what that means for you and your family, and I hope we don’t walk away from that,” Rubio said.
And he had a lot more to say besides.
Regarding the individual assistance authorized by President Donald Trump for individuals impacted by the storm, Rubio noted that time was of the essence regarding disbursement.
“How many people will not be able to go home for a long time … if you lost your home, you can’t go home tonight, we’ve got to get you that money quickly,” Rubio said, noting that local governments — such as Jacksonville, still owed $26M from the federal government for the last storm — are not able to shoulder that burden.
“There are communities waiting three or four years,” Rubio said in reference to Jacksonville’s cash crunch, citing a “backlog” that needs improvement.
“Small businesses” likewise need SBA help.
A “week or two without revenue,” Rubio said, may be the end for them.
Rubio also addressed Nelson’s contention that sea level rise contributed to this storm.
“Irrespective of the broader debate about its causes, you can measure sea level. And when you start to see flooding at high tide at many communities across Florida, when you start to see military installations critical to our economy and our state threatened by it, there are some things you need to do, and some things you can do.”
“There are some things you can do to mitigate,” Rubio said, though he called it a “whole other debate” when this reporter suggested that strategies are elusive to cool the water down that energizes these storms in the first place.
Flooding at high tide, Rubio said, is an “accelerating process.”
We asked Rubio if the Trump Administration was particularly equipped to handle the challenges created by what some call global warming.
“Again, we’re talking about mitigation. And when it comes to mitigation, it’s an infrastructure need,” Rubio said, a “critical” one.