Jacksonville Archives - Florida Politics

Jacksonville Bold for 9.23.17 — Recovery mode

After a two-week sabbatical, Jacksonville Bold returns this week — with much of the content dealing with a city battling back from well-documented storm impacts (massive flooding in areas, power outages, et al.)

And, like Bold, the city is coming back.

Before the Jaguars kicked off Sunday, power was substantially restored (though it seemed to have come at the expense of efficiency on offense). Debris is piled by curbs, waiting for pickup. Life is moving on — though some of those who suffered most grievously during the storm are still waiting for a helping hand from government.

Charlotte Glaze gives Donna Lamb a teary hug Monday as she floats out some of her belongings in floodwaters from the Ortega River in Jacksonville. Photo via AP.

The question going forward, into next Tuesday’s budget vote and beyond: How will the city shoulder a second straight year of significant storm-related costs?

The capital improvement program was already big-spending and ambitious ($131M). Other adds were equally bold: a proposal for 100 new cops, and a proposal to spend $8M for capital improvements at the private HBCU, Edward Waters College.

As John Lennon said: “Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.”

But that quote was never intended to apply to municipal budgets; however, Jacksonville City Council members will be compelled to balance what happened this month with long-range planning made before Irma was even conceived.

Paul RyanFlorida delegation talk Irma

House Speaker Paul Ryan and Appropriations Chair Rodney Freylinghausen aren’t usually in Bold, but they are this week — as they visited Jacksonville as part of a three-stop tour with the Florida Delegation to discuss Irma relief.

The national figures didn’t talk to the local press (small market blues?), but Florida U.S. Reps, such as Ron DeSantis, had a consistent message: Northeast Florida cities will get what’s coming to them from FEMA.

Florida Delegation: Help is on the way from D.C.

“One of the things we’ve been impressing on the federal government is these communities are having to spend a lot of resources on things like debris removal. They need to have that money reimbursed in a timely fashion,” DeSantis said.

“You still have a lot of localities that are waiting to be reimbursed for Matthew,” DeSantis added. “That’s a bureaucratic process that’s got to be improved. We’ve been talking to and engaging FEMA about that.”

Rep. John Rutherford also noted that funds are in fact available … good news for budget hawks in City Hall.

Al Lawson fights for Jax FEMA funds

Last week saw politicians coming through Jacksonville for photo ops and to survey the damage. Perhaps the most unheralded visit was that of Rep. Lawson, who dropped into City Hall last week and talked to the Mayor about getting Jacksonville money … from Hurricane Matthew.

Al Lawson visits storm-damaged Ribault area in Jacksonville last week.

“I talked to the Mayor,” Lawson said, “and what I told him is that I know there’s some $26 million that the city hasn’t gotten from FEMA for the last hurricane, Matthew. That’s one of the things that we’re working on to try to make sure they get those funds, because of the devastation in this area.”

“Our goal is to get the resources down here quickly as possible,” Lawson said.

Regarding backlogs with FEMA payouts, which can take years, Lawson noted that “this hurricane affected the whole state, and one of the things we need to do on the federal level is get that money released earlier.”

Lawson has worked, since beating Corrine Brown in the 2016 Democratic Primary in Florida’s 5th Congressional District, to build up local bona fides and ward off a potential local challenge. As of the end of June, the first-term Democrat had nearly $150,000 cash on hand for his next campaign.

Lawson promised us that Speaker Ryan would come to visit … and he was as good as his word, as you read above.

Rutledge Pearson Post Office?

Pushing for federal funds is one way Lawson is localizing his approach; pushing to name a local post office after one of the most influential civil rights leaders in regional history is another.

Sunshine State News reports that Lawson seeks to rename the Kings Road post office after Rutledge Pearson; this play is backed by most of the Florida Congressional Delegation, with Rep. Ted Yoho the sole Northeast Florida exception.

Fifty years after his suspicious death, Rutledge Pearson is still remembered.

“Rutledge Pearson, a Jacksonville native, was an American history teacher, civil rights leader and distinguished baseball player,” Lawson said last week. “His legacy in Jacksonville, especially in the fight for civil rights, is long-lasting and this is a fitting way to honor his contributions to our community.”

Pearson was a former head of the state NAACP and instrumental in Jacksonville’s struggle toward integration. He died 50 years ago in a car accident in Tennessee.

Hold my mule

The reviews are coming in for Shirley Caesar’s fundraising gig for Corrine Brown — and the Florida Star, closely aligned with Brown throughout her career, gave Caesar high marks this month.

“Selling out 2,000 seats at Abyssinia Missionary Baptist Church. Before Shirley Caesar anointed the attendees with her presence. Guest had the pleasure of enjoying the small business Pop-up shop and praising with live entertainment from Phillip Mercer, Abyssinia Choir, Robert Hayes (Classical Mime), and Najee Ward,” the Star reports.

Corrine Brown’s post-prison future may be in concert promotion.

Nothing like the classical mime to warm up the crowd.

Brown faces sentencing in mid-November. One hopes the anointing doesn’t have a shelf life.

Rick Scott: FEMA could offer ‘advance payments’

More good news and clarity on the reimbursement front.

Florida Gov. Scott is also on board — and may be able to help expedite requests.

“I talked to the Administrator of FEMA about this last week,” Scott said. “They can do advance payments.”

Scott noted caveats, such as “still having to go through the process,” and that — if the reimbursement is not approved — cities have to pay the feds back.

“What I’ve told everybody is get it to our office. I’ll get it to FEMA,” Scott added, “and what they’ve told me was they’d work with cities or counties to [make] advance payments.”

Gov. Rick Scott, CFO Jimmy Patronis and Rep. Ted Yoho were in Orange Park Tuesday.

Jacksonville, at last count, has somewhere around $150M between operating and emergency reserve accounts — a good chunk of change in a $1.27B general fund budget, but one with caveats — including statutory minimum levels that must be maintained.

Jacksonville is still awaiting reimbursements from the federal government — 75 percent of an approximate $50 million in storm-related damage. Application technicalities, such as Jacksonville’s local commitments to small and emerging businesses and locational criteria for vendors, apparently are not something the federal government honors.

Duval delegation talks Irma aftermath

“Unprecedented devastation” brought by Hurricane Irma occasioned a special press availability of the Duval Delegation late last week.

Most everyone on hand will go to bat for the district; however, details — beyond a Rep. Jay Fant bill to enhance criminal penalties for looting during states of emergency — were scant.

Jacksonville media members were delighted by a late Thursday afternoon press avail.

Rep. Cord Byrd, who represents Duval and Nassau, has spoken with Sen. Marco Rubio, Rep. John Rutherford and Speaker Richard Corcoran about pushing the ball forward.

And Rep. Jason Fischer noted that “we as a state should do everything we can to fill the gaps left by” federal and local governments.

We asked Rep. Fant about the Speaker’s dispensation toward Jacksonville pushing for resources, given the tensions regarding Fant’s positions on Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida, incentive programs the Speaker and allied vigorously worked to scuttle.

“Legislators may disagree on legislation,” Fant said, but all are “still teammates,” especially in light of the “catastrophic” Irma.

Notable: the Florida Times-Union had two reporters on hand, but ultimately saw little of reportable value in the event.

Did prophets see Irma coming?

We’re not sure if the Duval Delegation agrees with Rep. Kim Daniels about whether prophets saw Irma coming as a manifestation of God’s will. We didn’t have the heart to ask them.

“Nothing happens except God reveal it to prophets first,” Daniels observed as the death-dealing superstorm enveloped the peninsula.

The “carnally-minded” won’t understand where Rep. Kim Daniels is coming from.

We asked Daniels about these comments. To sum, she stands by the claim.

“I wouldn’t post it on Facebook if I didn’t believe it,” Daniels said, feet away from where a massive relief fund was being rolled out for the storm she said prophets knew would happen.

Her musings are “for spiritually-minded people,” Daniels said, “and you can’t explain spiritual things to carnally-minded people … And I’m sure you won’t understand it.”

We asked Daniels why God would want Irma to hit Florida.

Her response: “You pray and ask God that.”

Fundraising roundup

It was easy to lose track of Northeast Florida political fundraising during Irma’s Hell Week; however, we have you covered.

In fundraising for local 2019 races, Jacksonville City Council candidate Matt Carlucci again outclassed the field; of course, he will be taking a break the next couple of months, dealing with Irma claims in his capacity as a State Farm agent.

Matt Carlucci will have plenty of insurance claims to deal with this fall.

Though not a declared candidate yet for re-election, Sheriff Mike Williams’ committee is now over $100K cash-on-hand … with the bail bonds industry offering an assist.

In other committee news, Currys committee hauled in nearly a quarter-million dollars in August … and in the process, he paid back Jags’ owner Shad Khan for travel to three cities’ sports districts for eco dev ideas for the Shipyards.

And on the state level, committees for Sen. Rob Bradley and Rep. Paul Renner likewise had strong hauls. Attorney General candidate Fant struggled, while the man who hopes to replace him in HD 15 — lawyer Wyman Duggan — had a respectable first month of fundraising.

Irma may cost Jax more than Matthew did

Jacksonville’s Chief Administrative Officer, Sam Mousa, was the first local official to give even a rough estimate of local budget impacts from Irma.

They won’t be pretty.

“We’re just beginning the recovery,” Mousa said, noting that damage could be “equal or a bit more than Hurricane Matthew.”

Sam Mousa spent part of his birthday talking Irma expenses this week.

Matthew cost the city $50M in general fund costs, and the city is still out $27M of unreimbursed FEMA costs; Mayor Curry said earlier this summer that the city could handle a Matthew-sized hit to the general fund, though it is uncertain what choices a “bit more” costs would require.

Worth noting: the city estimated, in the wake of Matthew, costs could be up to $100M; that estimate turned out — luckily for the city, given FEMA’s slow reimbursement — to be high.

“We’re still trying to get our arms around infrastructure damage,” Mousa said.

Curry still committed to kids’ program reforms

Of late, Jacksonville’s City Council committees have deferred Curry’s “Kids Hope Alliance” proposal.

But the bill isn’t dead, the mayor says. Rather, it’s being tweaked.

Council awaits the revised version of Lenny Curry’s latest reform proposal.

Curry called the Kids Hope Alliance bill “real reform,” saying “I will see it through to the end.”

“I’m not going weak on this,” he added.

Regarding discussion among some legislators that significant changes are needed to the bill to make it palatable, Curry stood his ground, saying the aftermath of Hurricane Irma led to a temporary pause in the reform push.

“I met with experts,” Curry said, “tweaking it. But the delay right now is storm-related.”

“Once we get through this hurricane stuff,” he added, “you’ll see the final bill and a discussion in city council in the near term.”

We asked if the entire seven-person board would be comprised of Mayoral appointees, as was the case in the originally filed legislation.

“I don’t want to speak to the final product until we get there,” Curry said, “but I think you’ll see that it accomplishes the intent that I said needs to be accomplished.”

Message discipline

Jacksonville got national coverage last week for massive flooding in downtown and beyond; while that had the benefit of getting Curry and various local journos into the national spotlight, that came at the potential expense of Jacksonville’s reputation for resilience.

In the Jax Daily Record, veteran journalist Karen Mathis asserts that “efficient recovery” involves getting the business community back on its feet — and that it needs to happen soon … and be messaged.

“Companies that want to expand and create jobs want to know that when disaster strikes, they will be able to quickly resume business and continue their payrolls, which is what their employees want, too,” Mathis writes.

“While Florida, Jacksonville and other cities are moving to reconnect people with access to their daily routines, media headlines might not relay that message nationally,” Mathis adds.

Curfew kerfuffle

The words “safe at home” had a new meaning in the wake of Hurricane Irma, as one Northwest Jacksonville apartment complex instituted a curfew.

Rep. Kim Daniels stopped by Washington Heights to see the curfew in practice.

Moncrief Road’s Washington Heights dropped a curfew over the weekend; the goal, “safety” in the wake of Hurricane Irma. Per Action News Jax, the curfew is somehow controversial with residents who had aversions to being locked in their houses past 8 p.m. every evening.

Washington Heights is one of a few Jacksonville complexes owned by Millennia Housing Management: the company took over the reins from troubled Global Ministries Foundation, which didn’t commit capital to physical improvements at complexes it owned around town (indeed, throughout the South).

Sewage slosh

In the wake of Hurricane Matthew, JEA faced opprobrium over sewage spills. Despite reinforcing its generator fleet, power failed at some locations in Hurricane Irma — and sludge seeped out onto Jacksonville streets.

Stews of sewage sludge coursed on Jacksonville streets after Irma.

First Coast News reports that “there were 57 known pollution incidents in Jacksonville during Hurricane Irma. More than 1.5 million gallons of sewage and wastewater was released out into the environment.”

FCN visited spills at a couple of locations, describing “a green, glistening stew of waste floating in the water of the creek and nearby roadside ditches” at one place near Fisher Creek on the Westside.

Jacksonville Councilman Bill Gulliford told us that sewage spills were one point of contention he had with the utility during this storm, in a wide-ranging interview that seemed to suggest JEA could use a different CEO.

When given a chance Monday to make critiques to JEA’s CEO at Council, Gulliford avoided this rhetoric; instead, he cast aspersions at an unnamed colleague, who allegedly gave a code for a Council-only conference call that wasn’t intended to be heard by media to a member of the press.

Meanwhile, Curry — when asked — sidestepped the question of whether JEA Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer Paul McElroy deserves a bonus this year.

“Now is not the time” for such a discussion, he said.

Curry urges JEA to improve customer communications and to develop a plan to that end.

What Aaron Bean is up to next week

On Tuesday, Sept. 26, state Sen. Bean of Fernandina Beach will participate in the Leadership Nassau Youth Opening Day Lunch and speak with participants about the importance of leadership and public service.  The event begins 11:30 a.m. at the FSCJ Nassau Center, 76346 William Burgess Boulevard in Yulee.

One Spark flickers out for this year

Hurricane Irma is to blame for One Spark being pushed back until next year, WJCT reports.

The festival will be held at EverBank Field in April.

“We have received dozens of requests from applicants who have been impacted for extensions and help,” said One Spark Ventures President Chris Carter.

“Right now, we want to be respectful and mindful of our community and the hardships they face by allowing people the time they need to focus on their homes and families first,” Carter added.

One Spark has been in a gradual process of being scaled back in recent years; the hope is that in 2018 and beyond, the event will break-even.

No charges for Vernell Bing Jr. killer

Jacksonville activists sought charges in the police-involved shooting of Vernell Bing, Jr. — However, a year and a half after Bing’s death, those charges won’t come to pass, First Coast News reports.

The lawyer representing Bing’s family notes that civil charges are likely, however.

“While I’m sure folks are going to be very disappointed, very frustrated, that there is another criminal case of a police shooting of a young black man on the streets of Jacksonville, I can tell you we intend — if they didn’t criminally — we intend to hold him accountable civilly,” the lawyer said.

Likely, State Attorney Melissa Nelson will get pushback from local activists, but not the kind that will hurt her appreciably in a re-election bid.

For her part, Nelson noted that “we have conducted a thorough review of this shooting incident and determined the shooting was justified under applicable Florida law. We have established new protocols for both how we review officer-involved shootings and how we report our findings to the public. These new rules include the creation of an officer-involved shooting review team comprising investigators and prosecutors, who collectively, have more than 350 years of experience; the release of a comprehensive report detailing our analyses; and the simultaneous release of all relevant public records. These steps are taken to ensure accuracy in our findings and transparency in our work. This is the type of commitment the public expects and the type this office will maintain for years to come.”

Nelson has developed a pattern of messaging around controversial cases with an exhaustive amount of detail; this is no exception.

Shad Khan makes Forbes list of ‘best business minds’

Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan was named one of The World’s 100 Greatest Living Business Minds by Forbes magazine. The magazine compiled the list for a special Centennial issue, which includes Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk.

“My business goals have been consistent with my personal goals, and that’s to be distinctive and not only be unafraid of doing difficult things but commit to doing those things well so they can inspire others and make a difference in the lives of everyone,” Khan is quoted in the piece.

Shad Khan, one of the 100 Best Living Business Minds.

In addition to owning the Jaguars, Khan is CEO of auto-parts supplier Flex-N-Gate Corp., owns London’s Fulham Football Club and the Four Seasons Hotel Toronto.

Khan bought the Jaguars in 2012 for $770 million, and according to Forbes, the club is now worth over $2 billion.

Jax Zoo Manatee Critical-Care Center welcomes first patients

Two manatees became the first patients at the new Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens $2 million Critical Care Center.

Dahlia Ghabor of the Jacksonville Business Journal reports: “Cassie and Buckeye weighed only 66 and 63 pounds when they were rescued. Now, Cassie is at 775 pounds and Buckeye at 625. The manatees will remain at the Jacksonville care center to continue their critical weight gain and monitoring until they are ready to be released in the winter.”

While the Center — one of four in the state — is not an actual zoo exhibit, visitors can view the recovery pool, which is adjacent to the Wild Florida exhibit.

The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens $2 million Manatee Critical Care Center accepted its first two patients.

Craig Miller, the Zoo’s curator of mammals and chair of the Manatee Rescue Rehabilitation Partnership and leader of the zoo’s Marine Mammal Response Team, tells the TBJ that the facility will help reduce transport time for injured manatees back to warm water release sites.

“I get the sense from talking to guests that the community is pretty excited about this, because it’s something in their backyard,” Miller said. “We’re pretty excited about being able to help these wild animals. That’s what it’s all about for so many of us in this field.”

Armada suffer historic collapse in 3-3 draw vs New York 

For most of the match in Brooklyn Sunday night, the Jacksonville Armada FC seemed sure of taking home three points Sunday. But the New York Cosmos made a surprising comeback to force a 3-3 draw at MCU Park. It matched the Cosmos biggest comeback in the modern NASL history — New York came back from 3 goals down Aug. 8, 2015, to draw Fort Lauderdale 3-3 in South Florida.

A trio of moves led to the first goal in the 13th minute. Jack Blake launched a corner kick toward the front of the goal and Kalen Ryden headed it straight to Ciarán Kilduff, who gave the Armada FC a 1-0 lead.

Kilduff earned a brace in the 41st minute with his second goal of the night. Kilduff stole the ball from New York’s Danny Szetela and made a mazy run toward the goal, poking the ball past goalkeeper Kyle Zobeck for the second goal of the night.

New York was unable to capitalize on their limited opportunities and left the field trailing by two at halftime.

The second half began with back and forth action, but neither side found a goal until 20 minutes in. Zach Steinberger earned a penalty kick after going down inside the box, and Blake stepped up to the spot. He struck the ball past Zobeck for his eighth goal of the year ­— another new franchise record for the Armada FC.

The 3-0 lead for the Armada was short-lived, however.

The Cosmos’ Javi Márquez was first to chip away at Jacksonville’s lead. He cut the deficit by one for New York in the 79th minute after beating the Armada defense and slotting a shot home for a goal.

Ten minutes later, Ayoze tracked down a ball in the corner to keep it in play. Then he crossed it over to Eugene Starikov who headed it in just barely over goalkeeper Caleb Patterson-Sewell’s fingers. Entering second-half stoppage time, the Armada were handing on for dear life and eventually conceded.

In the final minute of the match, Juan Guerra took a shot just inside the 18-yard box to curl it into the back post and equalize the score.

Although leaving New York with a disappointing draw, the Jacksonville Armada remains one point above the Cosmos in the Fall Season and in fourth place in the combined standings, a position for a postseason slot in the Championship.

The Armada will now return home for two matches at Hodges Stadium. First, the team will face the Spring Champions, the Miami FC, Sunday, Sept. 24. Kickoff is scheduled for 4 p.m. and the club will also honor First Responders at the match. Then, the rescheduled match with Indy Eleven will take place Wednesday, Sept. 27, at 8 p.m. The Armada have not played a home match this month due to Hurricane Irma’s impact on First Coast.

New names, new money proposed for Jax Section 8 complexes

New names and $90,000,000 look likely for the acqusition, rebranding and rehab of four of Jacksonville’s most troubled low-income housing developments, which contain 768 units total.

Jacksonville City Council resolution 2017-671 would authorize $90,000,000 in Jacksonville Housing Finance Authority bonds to “finance, acquire, rehab & equip four Multifamily Rental Housing Developments.”

With the new money would come a new nomenclature, one that perhaps will help re-brand these properties for media members new to the market.

400-unit Eureka Gardens, 94-unit Moncrief Village, 74-unit Southside Apartments & 200-unit Washington Heights would be known as Valencia Way, Estuary Estates, Oyster Pointe and Charlesfort Commons, respectively.

There is no indication in the bill why these particular names were chosen.

The money could add up to over $117,000 per unit, a number that exceeds the median house price in some of the neighborhoods that contain them.

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This would close the book completely on the troubled tenure of Global Ministries Foundation, which acquired these properties via a bond process that sidestepped the oversight of JHFA.

Mayor Alvin Brown “bypassed the normal approval process through the city council and went directly to the mayor for approval” for financing, asserted Tripp Gulliford of the JHFA.

GMF ended up buying properties that included Washington Heights and Eureka Garden, and did not devote sufficient resources to renovate the mid-20th century multi-unit developments.

In fact, $3,000 a unit was all GMF — a putative nonprofit run by a minister and his family that shifted over nine million dollars from its nonprofit housing arm to its religious affiliate — had allocated for remediation of problems that had accumulated over decades.

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry established a comfort level quickly with the new property owners, Millennia Housing Management.

Mayor Curry was impressed particularly by the company’s CEO saying his standard for rental properties was “would I live in properties I own.”

Millennia has pledged significant resources to facility rehabilitation in the past, as a 2014 tax incentive application makes clear.

In acquiring a 160-unit Section 8 complex in upstate New York, the company pledged to spend $8.8 million on the “soft costs” of renovation. Pro-rated, this comes out to $55,000 a unit, as the company vowed to address a “multitude of capital needs” for the apartments, including kitchen and bathroom renovation and installing new windows.

These needs exist at these rundown, mid 20th Century properties, which have also featured threats to public safety — including but by no means limited to faulty air conditioning, mold in units, and gas leaks that have required evacuation.

Rick Scott: Advance payments a possibility for Jax FEMA reimbursements

The city of Jacksonville’s IOUs are starting to pile up from FEMA. The city is owed $26 million in reimbursements after Hurricane Matthew, and expectations are that Irma will cost even more.

 Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry again addressed the shortfall Tuesday.

“We’ll get through this storm,” Curry told reporters, “but my team will be aggressively working with the team from FEMA” for the purposes of reimbursement.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott sees President Donald Trump as his partner in the White House, yet Jacksonville and other Northeast Florida cities haven’t seen the helping hand of general fund reimbursement from FEMA.

But help may be at hand, Scott told reporters Tuesday in Orange Park.

“I talked to the administrator of FEMA about this last week,” Scott said. “They can do advance payments.”

Scott noted caveats, such as “still having to go through the process,” and that — if the reimbursement is not approved — cities have to pay the feds back.

“What I’ve told everybody is get it to our office. I’ll get it to FEMA,” Scott added, “and what they’ve told me was they’d work with cities or counties to do advance payments.”

Jacksonville, at last count, has somewhere around $150 million between operating and emergency reserve accounts — a good chunk of change in a $1.27 billion general fund budget, but one with caveats — including statutory minimum levels that must be maintained.

Jacksonville is still awaiting reimbursements from the federal government — 75 percent of an approximate $50 million in storm related damage. Application technicalities, such as Jacksonville’s local commitments to small and emerging businesses and locational criteria for vendors, apparently are not honored by the feds.

“We have to front the money for years,” the Jacksonville city council auditor said in August, well before Irma’s onslaught. “We are probably $26 million negative cash even without doing repairs [with expensive] debris cleanup.”

While these impacts are real, Gov. Scott’s vow to help move things along should reassure Jacksonville — and other Florida cities that have been impacted by two major storms in less than a year.

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry spoke to the possibility of advance payments Wednesday, saying that his Administration intended to make the case to House Speaker Paul Ryan — in town Wednesday — that Jacksonville should get money owed to it by the feds.

Jax Irma costs: ‘Equal or a bit more’ than Matthew

Monday’s Jacksonville City Council meeting saw local officials address the body regarding Hurricane Irma. Expect a big budgetary hit from this year’s storm, with infrastructural damage that is still being tallied.

That cost was buried in the mix of a few speakers on Monday, but will be the long-range policy impact of the storm.

The city’s Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa spoke about the progress of cut and toss crews and debris removal: the city’s sites are almost ready, Mousa said, to “accept debris.”

Up to a million cubic yards of debris is expected, more than Hurricane Matthew’s tally, Mousa said, before going into details of damage caused by the storm.

The city is dealing with roof and window leaks from the storm, as well as septic tank and lift station repairs, and “various infrastructure damage around the county.”

“We estimate that 33 to 50 percent of the sand we placed during Matthew has been eroded,” Mousa said.

“We’re just beginning the recovery,” Mousa said, noting that damage could be “equal or a bit more than Hurricane Matthew.”

Matthew cost the city $50M in general fund costs, and the city is still out $27M of unreimbursed FEMA costs; Mayor Curry said earlier this summer that the city could handle a Matthew-sized hit to the the general fund, though it is uncertain what choices a “bit more” costs would require.

Worth noting: the city estimated, in the wake of Matthew, that costs could be up to $100M; that estimate turned out — luckily for the city, given FEMA’s slow reimbursement, to be high.

“We’re still trying to get our arms around infrastructure damage,” Mousa said.

FEMA is in contact with the city, Mousa said, with a visit to the Emergency Operations Center Monday.

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Sheriff Mike Williams was next up, extolling cooperation among first-responders.

Williams noted there was some infrastructural damage at JSO facilities, but nothing major — some minor structural damage, yet no damaged vehicles.

Williams noted, in response to worries about looting, that residential and commercial burglaries were a bit up — and that State Attorney Melissa Nelson was handling special prosecutorial detail for those burglaries.

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Also addressing the legislators: JEA CEO Paul McElroy, whose performance was criticized roundly in the days after the storm by the Mayor and by City Council members, with Councilman Bill Gulliford offering the staunchest criticism.

Those criticisms faded, apparently, sometime over the weekend.

McElroy put forth familiar talking points, including noting that Jacksonville’s restoration started later than the rest of the state, noting that the local utility had resources from across the country.

McElroy said JEA “restored very well … in the top decile of the state.”

“During the process, we were at or ahead of the pack,” McElroy noted, an especially laudatory detail given the city’s tree canopy and large land mass.

McElroy noted that water service held up well countywide, while wastewater service was a bit dodgier — 700 of them lost power during the peak, and “most of them” had backup power.

“We lost about two million gallons,” McElroy said, adding that’s a “heck of a lot better than last year,” and that most of the failings were attributable to “double or triple contingency failure.”

Northeast Florida jobs numbers strong again in August

As Northeast Florida continues the recovery phase after Hurricane Irma’s storm surge inundated large swathes of the city, the DEO offered good news on the jobs front Friday.

Unemployment in the six-county Northeast Florida region stands at 4.2 percent, down from 5.1 percent last August, and in line with state numbers. And there are 2.5 percent more jobs in the region year over year; compared to the 2 percent population growth, that’s another encouraging indicator.

County by county, unemployment numbers are mostly trending better than the state average.

“St. Johns County had the lowest unemployment rate (3.2 percent) in the CareerSource Northeast Florida region followed by Clay County (3.8 percent), Baker County (3.9 percent), Nassau County (3.9 percent), Duval County (4.4 percent), and Putnam County (5.5 percent),” asserts the Department of Economic Opportunity.

Job growth, year over year, has been especially strong in education and health services (up 4,500 jobs), and n trade, transportation, and utilities (up 5,000 jobs) and professional and business services (+4,400 jobs).

The only sector with year over year declines: leisure and hospitality, down 900 jobs year over year.

Duval Delegation talks recovery from Irma’s ‘unprecedented destruction’

The Duval County Legislative Delegation discussed its role Jacksonville’s continuing efforts to recover from Hurricane Irma on Thursday afternoon.

A big part of their vision, whether in a Special Session dedicated to Hurricane Irma or beyond, is ensuring that “Jacksonville gets what it needs,” as Chairman Jay Fant put it, after the “unprecedented destruction” of the storm.

Jacksonville is in recovery mode finally, after a storm that affected the area — in terms of storm surge/high tide flooding and wind damage — like few other events, with massive flooding Downtown, and in Riverside, Avondale, San Marco, and other low-lying areas.

While Mayor Lenny Curry has expressed confidence that the city has adequate resources for recovery, especially given strong relationships with the Governor and the White House, the delegation will have a key role in securing resources through the legislative process.

Delegation chair Fant’s district, which includes Riverside, Avondale, and Ortega, saw some of the worst impacts of the storm.

The district, Fant said, “got hit as hard as any.”

Fant noted that there may be infrastructure money available, though he believes the storm drains installed in recent years are sufficient for most storms.

However, Fant notes that the current power delivery system in the area — “lines in the air” — may not be optimal going forward.

New neighborhoods, he said, have underground systems in place; older neighborhoods, meanwhile, aren’t currently afforded that option. Combined with a tree canopy, outage issues can be created — and, as is the case with prolonged outages from Irma, can very easily create public safety concerns.

“This is not just a convenience issue,” Fant said. “It’s a public safety issue.”

“Lines in the air are the key. If we can accelerate programs to get these down,” Fant said, power outages of the sort seen in older neighborhoods may be avoided.

Fant has been in communication with House Speaker Richard Corcoran. The Delegation, he said, is “very serious” about bringing local needs to Tallahassee.

Sen. Aaron Bean noted that Nassau County — a big part of his district — has thus far been exempt from the FEMA major disaster declaration that encompasses other Northeast Florida counties; he’d like to change that.

Rep. Cord Byrd, who likewise represents Duval and Nassau, has spoken with Sen. Marco Rubio, Rep. John Rutherford and Speaker Corcoran about pushing the ball forward.

And Rep. Jason Fischer noted that “we as a state should do everything we can to fill the gaps left by” federal and local governments.

We asked Rep. Fant about the Speaker’s dispensation toward Jacksonville pushing for resources, given the tensions regarding Fant’s positions on Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida, incentive programs the Speaker and allied vigorously worked to scuttle.

“Legislators may disagree on legislation,” Fant said, but all are “still teammates,” especially in light of the “catastrophic” Irma.

Fant’s take: the House and the Senate, and their respective leadership, are aligned on this one.

 

 

 

After Irma, state politicians descend on Jacksonville

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.

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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.

Tim Tebow plays cheerleader for Irma relief efforts

A New York Mets minor leaguer with a Heisman Trophy from his time in The Swamp brought some star power to Gov. Rick Scott‘s Hurricane Irma relief efforts Tuesday.

After visiting a special-needs shelter together Monday night in Jacksonville, Scott teamed with former University of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow to thank volunteers and workers Tuesday at the state Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee and then left to do the same in Lee County.

“In the midst of a really tough time, you know I think so many people that were hurting have something to hold on to because there were so many volunteers … and they knew there were people in it with them,” Tebow said during the Tallahassee stop. “It doesn’t take away their pain, and it doesn’t take away their fear and doubt of the unknown, but it does give them a little comfort to know that there are people battling with them and loving and supporting them.”

Tebow, who grew up in the Jacksonville area and stopped by a number of Northeast Florida evacuation shelters, had worked with Scott to rally people to volunteer at shelters and in relief efforts before Irma made landfall Sunday in the Florida Keys and Southwest Florida.

“It’s not like you can make everything better at once, but you can know that people are praying for you and they love you and they are here with you walking this journey with you,” Tebow said.

Also, before Scott took part Monday in an aerial survey of damage in the Keys, the governor talked about Hurricane Irma’s storm impacts with Tebow, college football’s 2007 Heisman Trophy winner. Tebow played minor-league baseball this year in the New York Mets system.

Scott told reporters that people staying and working in hurricane-evacuation shelters have appreciated Tebow’s appearances and efforts.

On Friday, Scott retweeted a message from Tebow that said, “@FLGovScott is asking for more volunteers. LET’S RALLY, Florida! Go here: volunteerflorida.org.”

Scott last week also retweeted a message from Miami rapper Pitbull, a former paid ambassador for the state’s tourism industry, who said, “Florida residents & visitors, please be diligent. Evacuate where needed. Be safe. We will be back bigger, better, stronger.”

The storm work by Tebow won’t get him a “Great Floridian” honor – Scott’s already given him that designation.

Tebow was part of the 2013 class of “Great Floridians” that included former Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula, the late Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, golfer Bubba Watson, and 16th-century Spanish conquistador Juan Ponce de Leon, each recognized for making significant contributions to the progress and welfare of Florida.

Tebow, who is also a college-football analyst for ESPN, has a charity intended to help children in need. He’s also said he can envision a future career in politics.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Irma wallops Jacksonville: historic floods, 250K+ without power

The morning of Sept. 11, 2017 saw the Jacksonville area waking up to the devastation left by Hurricane Irma, even without a direct hit as suffered out west.

Onshore flow rocked Jacksonville’s beaches in the wake of Matthew. Flood waters coursed through St. Augustine, yet again, along with low-lying areas, such as Downtown, Riverside, Old Mandarin, Broward Road, and San Marco. Impacts in many places exceeded that of 1964’s Hurricane Dora: the previous benchmark for the area; downtown saw flooding unseen since the 19th century. Docks throughout town: destroyed.

Tree damage was noticed even before Irma made its approach, a fierce Nor’easter serving as the hurricane’s warm up act; winds that gusted past Category 1 throughout the night only exacerbated that.

Meanwhile, the city itself was not spared. A symphony of exploding power transformers started before midnight and continued even as day broke, with well over 270,000 JEA customers without power at 9:40 a.m. — more than was the case in the wake of Matthew, even as the storm’s tropical storm force winds gusted to gales as the system made its exit.

The Beaches, evacuated days before, are in the dark.

Jacksonville, still waiting for federal reimbursements totaling $26 million from Matthew, was in no position to assess the financial hit taken early Monday morning. The city, Mayor Lenny Curry said before the storm, had “adequate reserves” to take a Matthew-sized hit. But, as the storm bore down on Jacksonville for over 12 hours with tropical storm winds and higher gusts, there were strong indications that hit may be harder than the one incurred last year.

Right now, Curry said it’s “too early” to assess financial impacts; right now, it’s about saving lives.

However, there was plenty that could be said. And as elsewhere in Florida, there is plenty to rebuild. But for some, the worst is not over.

“Serious storm surge,” Curry said, was along the river, bringing “serious flood risk.”

Those who need rescue from flood-prone areas are encouraged to put a white flag outside, to show they are in distress.

City and state rescue teams will be available. JFRD has already gotten one call per minute.

“3 teams -22 LEOs- of pre-staged FWC officers are en route to Jacksonville areas where flooding is reported,” asserted Gov. Rick Scott‘s deputy communications director, McKinley Lewis, after the briefing.

Flooding, said the NWS weather person, has already surpassed historic levels, and will only get worse with this afternoon’s high tide.

“The data that we had spoke to the seriousness of this storm,” Curry said regarding the evacuation.

There’s no data as to fatalities, but injuries via trees through houses and structure fires are another matter.

Jacksonville: Outside Irma cone, but still ‘under the gun’

On Sunday morning, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry updated locals on the impacts of Hurricane Irma, churning in the Gulf toward Tallahassee.

Though the cone has shifted west as variables have fallen away from the forecast, there will be tropical storm force winds with potentially stronger gusts, along with flash flooding and tornado potential.

“Do not be lulled,” Curry said, this is a “very wide storm” and people are urged to “hunker down.”

By 8PM, Jacksonville residents will experience sustained tropical storm force winds; by midnight, conditions will deteriorate rapidly, with winds of 40 to 60 MPH and higher gusts.

Jacksonville is still “under the gun,” said the NWS weather person. But the threat is less than it seemed earlier this week, and certainly less than faced elsewhere.

The city’s cut and toss teams are out already, clearing debris, as a Nor’easter has been an impact this weekend.

Meanwhile, Curry said to expect power outages from this “major statewide event,” with demand on power crews expected to be more significant than Matthew.

Curry attempted to be positive, urging people to score some “mental relief and root for the Jaguars.”

However, for Curry, there were personal worries: family and friends were in Key West when the storm hit, and some did not evacuate.

And there had been no word since the storm passed from them.

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