Lenny Curry Archives - Page 5 of 130 - Florida Politics

National Republicans hire new Florida state director

Ahead of the 2018 midterms, the Republican National Committee has brought on a new political director for Florida.

Andrew Brey, who previously served on U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio‘s presidential campaign, has been in the post since July. Brey has also worked for the Republican Party of Florida as field director in support of Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry‘s campaign and was part of Gov. Rick Scott‘s re-election team.

After Rubio ended his presidential bid, Brey became political director for Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, who defeated Democrat Russ Feingold despite his substantial lead in polling.

According to POLITICO, Brey’s appointment was formally announced in an RNC press release, along with the hire of state directors in 17 states across the country for the 2018 cycle.

With 163K still in the dark, Jax slogs out of Irma

Daring rescues from floodwaters and a general co-branding of the media and the government characterized Monday, as Irma churned away from Jacksonville at long last.

But attention turned to more quotidian details Wednesday — namely the large swathes of town still out of power.

Southside neighborhoods, from Brierwood to Mandarin, along with large swathes of the Westside, from Avondale to Lackawanna, were among the 163,000 customers in the dark Tuesday morning.

That restoration pace struck a stark contrast to Duval customers served by Beaches Energy; despite being on the coast, and subject to evacuation orders, a full 99 percent of Beaches Energy customers were online as of Monday night.

JEA, in the wake of Hurricane Matthew, was given high marks for its performance by the board — even as there were questions about JEA’s slower pace of restoration of the over 250,000 affected, and an unwillingness to invest in underground power delivery systems — the kind that work so well at Jacksonville’s beaches, whose utilities were substantially restored after Matthew and now this storm even as JEA was performing assessments.

JEA is considering a capital investment: a new tower, to replace the retro-styled one downtown. However, as Jacksonville customers sit in the dark for an extended period for a second straight year, should JEA consider more substantive revisions to its power delivery system, which failed in some areas during this storm even before tropical storm winds began in Jacksonville?

“I would challenge that the distribution system was anything other than exceptional,” said JEA CEO Paul McElroy, about the system’s pre-storm situation.

Duval, at this writing, has 32 percent outages. St. Johns’ customers: 48 percent out. Nassau: 73 percent.

“Many areas are 90 percent out,” McElroy said of the state. “We’re making good progress.”

And McElroy is confident the progress is continuing, abetted by all-night work made possible by construction lighting provided by the Governor at the request of Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry.

The tale of the tape will be how quickly the progress continues, as Jacksonville residents who don’t work for the School District inevitably will have to work shifts Wednesday and going forward.

Beyond the JEA restoration pace, Curry noted that 356 people were rescued from floodwaters Monday.

“Yesterday was rescue day. First responders just did their job,” Curry said.

“Lives were saved yesterday,” Curry said, predicting that those ordered to evacuate but required saving this time “will take it seriously” next go around.

A final note: Tuesday’s meeting of the Jacksonville City Council is not happening, and as of yet there is no reschedule date.

That process will start soon, City Council President Anna Brosche noted.

“Because we would have been laying the budget on the table, we will have to work within state requirements to readvertise and re-notice,” Brosche said.

That process will start Tuesday or Wednesday.

Jacksonville riverfront residents face new threats from record high tide

A walk through Jacksonville’s Avondale neighborhood Monday morning revealed the destruction Hurricane Irma had wrought.

But even as the storm was headed out, more danger follows Monday afternoon, via record high tides.

Avondale, along with Riverside and Downtown, got the worst of the flooding; Avondale also got some of the most brutal winds, the kind that take out trees older than most of the human residents.

Downed trees knocked out stoplights in some places, power lines in more places, suggesting that restoration will be no easy fix.

A more immediate worry for Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa, and the city’s first responders: rescuing those who are in houses close to the river, houses under threat from a rising high tide coursing in from the St. Johns River into some of the most exclusive properties in the city.

We saw Curry and Mousa in a Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office vehicle this morning, in between media briefings.

Curry’s priority: saving lives at this point, as the tide will sweep in this afternoon. Rescue efforts are underway for people who are stuck in properties subject to river rise.

And those rescue efforts, and restoration efforts, will be challenging operations — with coordination of local and state resources, including three teams -22 LEOs- of pre-staged FWC officers en route to Jacksonville areas where flooding is reported.

Time is of the essence in those cases. For those not fighting Irma’s last major high tide in Jacksonville, concerns are more quotidian, including power restoration; 259,000 JEA customers lacked electricity shortly after 11:30 a.m.

“Most of the state is without power right now,” Curry noted in the briefing.

But for those in flood-prone areas, such as San Marco, Avondale, Riverside, and others, it’s go time, Curry said, noting that he had ordered voluntary evacuations of these areas Wednesday.

The shelters, said Curry, are 20 percent full.

“We’ve got room,” Curry said.

“This is a Cat 3 type surge from a tropical storm,” Curry said, noting a 6 foot rise from normal water levels.

These are attributable to high tide and unprecedented rains from Irma. And full abatement will take a week.

The city will be closed through Tuesday, as the focus will be on recovery from the storm. The city’s helpline — 630-CITY — will be devoted to people who need rescue.

“We will keep you posted and updated,” Curry said.

“Let’s go take care of people.”

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.

Lenny Curry: ‘I’m praying for the city, praying for you’

Even as Irma bears down on the West Coast of Florida, the mammoth impacts of the storm are felt in the state’s Northeast corner.

On Sunday night, Jacksonville got ready for a night that is expected to bring 12 hours of tropical storm force winds, massive flooding of low-lying areas, and other impacts.

“I’m praying for the city, I’m praying for you,” said Mayor Lenny Curry Sunday evening at a briefing at the Emergency Operations Center.

“It’s going to get very real after 8 PM.” Curry said. “Be at home or in a shelter. Stay off the roads.”

Curry, who had friends and family who didn’t evacuate storm ravaged Key West, spoke out of concern and practicality.

“If a place doesn’t feel safe,” Curry said, “get to a shelter.”

40 to 60 MPH winds, over the course of 12 hours, will present impacts — tests of the city’s infrastructure, just 11 months after Matthew presented its own challenges that cost the city $50M — $27M of it is still pending FEMA reimbursement.

“This is a long time for the city to take a beating,” Curry said, as outer rainbands squalled in, the presage of torment to come.

Irma is to the west of Jacksonville; however, tropical storm force winds range 200 miles to the east of the eye.

Law enforcement will be out of the field during the height of the storm, powerless to deal with issues.

And bridges, soon enough, will close as the winds top 40 MPH.

Assessment of damage will come Monday, as winds die down after sunrise.

With that, the long night has begun.

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.

Fuel becomes key as Floridians flee Irma

Florida is scrambling to keep up with high demand for gas from people fleeing and preparing for the weekend arrival of powerful and deadly Hurricane Irma.

Highway regulations and restrictions have been lifted for fuel truckers, who are receiving law-enforcement escorts. Also, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt on Thursday approved emergency fuel waivers requested by Gov. Rick Scott, who is trying to get more gas quickly into Florida.

“Demand obviously is increasing during this time, so what we’re trying to do is make sure on the supply side that we provide more options than what exist,” Pruitt said in an interview with The News Service of Florida.

Pruitt said he spoke with Scott several times by telephone Thursday. Scott requested an extension of the waivers, which were approved for Hurricane Harvey and were set to expire on Sept. 15.

“Those waivers will provide certainty and confidence to refiners and to others in the industry that will be of benefit to the citizens of Florida and to the other states affected (by Irma),” Pruitt said.

Scott also wants people, particularly those who intend to ride out the storm at home or in nearby shelters, to be more altruistic and to fill up with only the amounts of gas they may need the next few days.

“What’s happening is, people are buying so much gas right now, as soon as you fill up at the retailer, they’re buying all the gas before the truck can get back,” Scott said.

Scott also cautioned Floridians not to delay if they are ordered to evacuate or if they have decided to leave home.

“We cannot save you once the storm hits,” Scott said Thursday afternoon at the Jacksonville Emergency Operations Center. “Once there is an evacuation order, get out.”

As of 5 p.m. Thursday, Irma was about 135 miles east of Great Inagua Island, with maximum sustained winds of 175 mph, moving west-northwest at 16 miles per hour. Scott warned of life-threatening 5- to 10-foot storm surges in Florida from the Category 5 storm.

“My biggest concern right now is people are not taking seriously enough the risk of storm surge,” Scott said.

Florida received its first storm-surge and hurricane watches on Thursday morning, from the Jupiter Inlet south around the peninsula to Bonita Beach. The hurricane watch – typically issued 48 hours before tropical-storm force winds arrive – also includes Lake Okeechobee and Florida Bay.

A storm-surge watch means life-threatening rising water is likely within 48 hours.

The Florida Keys, where more than 25,000 people hit the road after mandatory evacuations were ordered for tourists and residents, is under both watches.

Mandatory evacuation orders have been issued for barrier islands and low-lying mainland areas of Miami-Dade and Broward counties.

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry said depending upon the projected path of the storm, evacuation orders may be issued Friday for low-lying areas and mobile homes in Northeast Florida.

For those evacuating: “Go north or west,” Curry said.

“They need to get out Jacksonville,” he added. “They need to get out of the path of the storm.”

Curry worried that some residents might be complacent after Hurricane Matthew last October. That hurricane went up the East Coast but never made landfall in Florida. It left more than 1 million without power, caused serious flooding along the St. Johns River and was blamed for 12 deaths in the state.

“One of the things that we’ve heard buzzing around here in Jacksonville and the surrounding area is that this is another Matthew,” Curry said. “This is not another Matthew. And to be clear, Matthew inflicted serious damage on our city.”

Scott activated 3,000 additional members of the Florida National Guard, bringing the number to 4,000. Another 3,000 are expected to be activated by Friday.

Scott also tweeted a photo of a Florida Highway Patrol car traveling behind a tanker truck on an interstate, noting the FHP is escorting “fuel trucks across FL to ensure supplies are quickly refilled.”

Scott added in a release that he’s been in contact with federal officials, fuel retailers and oil companies to address the shortages of fuel.

“We have asked fuel companies to identify ships that are in route to our ports so we can arrange military escorts to get them here faster,” Scott said. “To further expedite fuel delivery, I have directed state police to escort fuel trucks to gas stations along evacuation routes.”

Regulations related to truck weights and driver restrictions have been waived for fuel trucks.

To help keep gas stations open longer in evacuation zones, Scott added the state’s offering to arrange police escorts for station employees.

The Florida Ports Council reported that multiple fuel ships were headed to Port Tampa and JaxPort and were docked at Florida ports.

“Fuel distribution is being expedited at all phases of delivery — Governor Scott has arranged for military vessels to escort the ships to the docks and law enforcement escort of fuel trucks to stations,” the council said Thursday.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

 

JEA issues loom over Jacksonville Irma prep

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry briefed the City Council on Irma preparation — and an interesting question regarded JEA.

In 2016, JEA was criticized for power restoration that took nearly a week in some parts of the city. And in 2017, a repeat performance was a concern.

“They have mutual aid agreements. We have assured they are prepared,” Mayor Curry said, noting that Florida Power and Light is available … at least contingently.

Given Irma’s swath through South and Central Florida will precede arrival in Jacksonville, Curry noted that “there could be availability issues there.”

“There will be more conversations [with JEA] tomorrow,” Curry said.

JEA is looking to decrease outages, with aggressive vegetation management around lift stations, and state forestry workers on call, asserted JEA spokeswoman Judi Spann.

Sewage spills were also an issue in Matthew, and those should be rectified with both portable and fixed generators that were not in place in 2016.

Fuel distribution looms as major concern before Irma

As Irma looms in the Atlantic, Duval County residents remember very well Hurricane Matthew and the aftermath.

Gov. Rick Scott was on the ground locally both before and after the storm, offering meaningful material assistance to Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and other Duval County Mayors.

Power outages, fuel and supply shortages, downed trees: all were impacts during Matthew … and the reasonable expectation is more of the same — if not worse — as Irma makes its way through.

With Irma days away from menacing Northeast Florida, Scott was in Jacksonville briefing the media Thursday.

And all of those issues from Matthew were addressed in the press conference, with fuel shortages at pumps proving to be a hot topic.

Scott noted that he had been talking to retailers and suppliers, including oil companies, and urged gas stations to stay open as long as possible in evacuation zones.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam earlier in the day said his department also is closely monitoring the distribution of gasoline in Southeast Florida where many stations have already run out.

“This is not a fuel shortage problem but a distribution problem,” Putnam said. “There is gas in the state; we are now working to get it distributed to areas needed.”

To that, Scott added: “We know fuel is important,” and to that end three 1.2 million gallon tankers came into Tampa today.

Usage — specifically choices made by drivers to top off their gas tanks — are creating pressures; Gov. Scott noted that at gas stations, “people are buying all the gas before the truck gets back.”

Federal waivers, including through the EPA, are allowing the state to “keep getting fuel in, to stores quickly,” Scott said.

And while gas has been coming into Port Everglades and Port of Tampa, those ports eventually will close, shifting shipments north.

 “There are parts of Jacksonville that don’t have fuel,” Mayor Curry said, calling it a “distribution issue” rather than a “supply issue.”

Augmenting the fuel issues — traffic issues, with slowdowns and logjams headed north from South Florida.

Scott and Curry noted that outside of accidents, traffic is moving — and they urged people to evacuate quickly.

Scott’s rhetorical question: “Why would you want to wait?”

___

Another talking point: power outages. Scott and Curry noted that they are inevitable.

“In a major storm,” Curry said, “you will see major power outages.”

In Jacksonville, tropical storm force winds are anticipated 8 a.m. Sunday, with hurricane force winds expected Monday morning.

Gulf Power does not expect impacts from the storm; they and other power companies will offer resources, and Scott is confident that those resources will come to pass after the storm.

In FEMA cash crunch, Jacksonville gets short shrift

As Irma bears down on Florida, Jacksonville still awaits monies from FEMA for Hurricane Matthew recovery. That money isn’t coming anytime soon.

An internal email from Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Assistant Chief Todd Smith reveals that the cash-strapped federal relief agency has a priority list — and the roughly $26 million Jacksonville awaits is not at the top … especially given the fund is down to $541 million.

While raising the debt ceiling will increase FEMA’s capacity to act, absent a radical cash infusion, city policy makers shouldn’t expect FEMA money soon.

“Bottom line is that we will likely see impacts to some of our long term recovery projects from Hurricane Matthew,” Smith wrote to Mayor Lenny Curry‘s senior staff.

“When the [Designated Relief Fund] balance is within the range of $800 million to $1 billion, they initiate a fiscal strategy called ‘Immediate Needs Funding’ — which prioritizes the immediate needs of disaster survivors, states/tribes/territories, and communities during disasters,” Smith wrote.

Jacksonville’s needs, in other words, fall behind Hurricane Harvey impacts.

The formula, Smith adds, “prioritizes funding for current disasters, so that FEMA can continue its focus on response and urgent recovery efforts without any interruption.”

“Longer-term recovery projects will be temporarily impacted by INF.  This includes the rebuilding of public infrastructure — schools, roads, bridges, and libraries. Funding is not being eliminated for projects in the restricted categories, but merely delayed until additional appropriations are available,” Smith adds.

This email circulated to Curry’s senior staff two days before he expressed confidence that FEMA would make good on its obligation from 2016.

“I am in touch with the right people in the White House and around the White House to get our FEMA reimbursements,” Curry said. “We’re going to get what’s owed to us.”

Curry discussed delayed FEMA payouts Wednesday in a gaggle.

“We know we’ll be reimbursed. We’d like that to be sooner rather than later. But this isn’t a time to squabble about timing; this is a time to care for each other,” Curry said.

We asked Curry if FEMA needs more funding — which would require Congress to raise the debt ceiling.

“I’d ask Congress to do whatever they have to do to … make sure we have the resources to make sure people are safe, and their needs are taken care of,” Curry said.

“Right now, the first priority is the safety of the people in my city — and for Congress, anyone who has been impacted or could be impacted by a storm,” Curry added.

This was the second straight day of FEMA questions for the mayor.

On Tuesday, Curry addressed some FEMA-related questions from the local press corps.

Curry is confident that, even with delayed reimbursements, the city can weather financial impacts from Matthew until federal money comes through … a key factor with Cat 5 Irma looming in the Caribbean, with eventual impact on Northeast Florida unknown at least for now.

Between cash and reserve levels (which, between the operating and emergency reserve, will be somewhere between $135 and $165M at the end of the fiscal year), Curry is confident the city is ready financially for Irma impacts.

And, as Tuesday’s mayoral briefing at the city’s Emergency Operations Center reveals, that readiness will be tested in the days and weeks ahead.

When asked if the city had sufficient resources for a major storm, in its roughly $150 million of reserve monies, Curry’s answer was an interesting one.

The city has “adequate reserves” for an impact created by a storm like Matthew, Curry said. However, a bigger impact — such as this year’s Harvey — would create decisions for policy makers.

“In the event of another Matthew, we have adequate reserves,” Curry said. “In the event of a — of a catastrophic event, we’ve got a budget; we’ve got priorities. Safety comes first, so if we ever had to realign priorities in an emergency situation, we would do just that.”

If Jacksonville is indeed going to be stranded without federal money, then budget priorities almost certainly will be realigned. Even if the debt ceiling is raised, expect finite federal resources to be diverted to bigger, more immediate priorities.

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