Collections of all storm debris could take up to six months
Based on assessments by the City of Sarasota’s Development Services staff on Sept. 29 and Sept. 30, an estimated 300 to 400 homes within the municipality suffered minor damage, Todd Kerkering, the city’s emergency manager, told the City Commission at the end of its regular meeting on Oct. 3.
By “minor damage,” he explained, he was referring to situations such as trees leaning against them and fencing that was destroyed.
Of the slightly more than 12,000 homes in the city limits, Kerkering estimated that “a good 40% to 50% were affected” in some fashion.
For examples of what he meant by that, he said, he was referring to torn pool cage screens or missing roof tiles or shingles. Those homes are habitable, he stressed. “The city did fare extremely well with that.”
He emphasized that residences are staff’s primary focus, “not the commercial property” in Sarasota, as owners of the latter types of structures can deal with their insurers.
“I’ve been to North Port a couple of times,” Kerkering told the commissioners, “and you can see the difference in the 25 miles away that we are.”
Reports from North Port have indicated major damage to residential structures, as Gov. Ron DeSantis noted after a tour of that municipality earlier this week.
“Be thankful that you have a house here that FP&L [Florida Power & Light Co.] is going to eventually get to, to hook your power up,” Kerkering told the commissioners, “because there’s people down south who don’t even have homes anymore …”
He added that he was referring to South County, though he acknowledged the devastation in other counties south of Sarasota County.
An Oct. 5 update that FPL released at 11 a.m., regarding its customers statewide affected by Hurricane Ian, showed that the company had 32,040 customers in the city who had suffered outages. As of that time, 30,290 had seen their power restored. The Sarasota News Leader found that report in the city email folder.
On Sept. 29, Sept. 30, Oct. 1 and Oct. 3, Kerkering continued on Oct. 3, a team of 15 to 20 Sarasota Police Department (SPD) officers went to North Port to assist that city’s law enforcement personnel. The SPD team members had completed more than 75 rescues, Kerkering said, and they had checked on the conditions of several hundred homes.
They also have delivered water, ice and meals ready to eat (MREs), when those supplies were available, he added.
City staff made sure that city employees in North Port were taken care of, Kerkering also noted.
As for storm debris: Kerkering told the board members that he wanted to put an emphasis on “managing the expectations.” Staff has estimated that the city has 150,000 to 200,000 cubic yards of landscape debris. “It took us a little over three months to get Irma cleaned up,” he pointed out of the September 2017 hurricane that also struck the Southwest Florida coastline. “I would anticipate … it could take us six months to get every street cleared and cleaned up, with all the debris out of the residential areas.”
Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch asked for clarification about that timeline, adding, “I know I’m going to get comments” from residents worried about their storm debris remaining at their curbs.
Kerkering reiterated his earlier remark — that his estimate is based on the fact that it took three months to complete the debris collections after Irma’s strike.
Deputy City Manager Patrick Robinson then stressed that staff cannot be certain how long the work will take, but he indicated that Kerkering’s estimate was a logical one.
“OK,” Ahearn-Koch replied.
City property and infrastructure assessments
Most City of Sarasota properties were affected by Hurricane Ian “in some way,” Kerkering, pointed out.
Kerkering emphasized that, generally, he was referring to issues such as broken windows and missing shingles. No tenant of a city building had reported major damage, he added.
However, he said, the roof of the Payne Park Auditorium had peeled back “a little bit.” The city’s insurance adjustors are trying to figure out how best to address that, Kerkering added.
“And there was some pretty extensive damage to the [Payne Park] tennis court fencing, so they’re doing an analysis on that,” to determine how many courts could be reopened, Kerkering said.
Among other details, Kerkering noted that crews with the Landscape Division of the Parks and Recreation Department had cleared more than 300 roads that were blocked. As of that night, he said, nine locations in the city still had temporary road blockages. Those were related to downed power lines and poles, mixed in among fallen trees, he explained.
City employees will need to work with Florida Power & Light Co. (FPL) employees to rectify those situations, Kerkering added.
FPL has been made aware of all of the locations, he noted.
Providing further explanation, Kerkering said that he considers a road passable when not only personal vehicles but also emergency response vehicles can maneuver all the way down that road. The situation does not necessarily mean that someone can travel 25 mph on a road with a 25 mph speed limit, he stressed. “It means you might have to go a little slower,” Kerkering said, and, in some cases, only enough room exists for a single lane of traffic.
City staff also has been working to ensure that parks are safe to reopen before allowing members of the public access to them in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, Kerkering explained. For example, staff wants to ensure that no trees appear stressed to the point of imminent falls.
Arlington Park and the Robert L. Taylor Community Complex both were scheduled to reopen on Oct. 4, he added.
Among other results of city assessments, Kerkering said staff still was dealing with nine sewer lift stations running on generators as of that night.
Additionally, the city suffered 42 water line breaks, but they all have been repaired.
He did note, “We are supplying water to the Englewood Water District.” Its staff is driving tankers to the city’s water plant, he said, where the tankers are filled up for a return to Englewood. That community also suffered significant damage, as the news media has reported.
Further, of the 90-plus traffic and crossing signals in the city, Kerkering told the commissioners that only 10 still were without power as of that night. Nine of those were operating on generators, he added. The final one had been switched to a four-way signal.
Commendations for city employees
Turning again to the topic of city employees affected by Hurricane Ian, Kerkering told the commissioners, “This hits close to home, and it’s hard, but … your employees are the citizens’ employees, [and] they did an awesome job.”
He did point out that about a dozen employees experienced extensive damage to their residences. “Some have lost their homes, who live farther south.”
The Human Resources Department staff has been working with them to help them reach charitable organizations that could help them, Kerkering said.
“There were six Solid Waste workers who came into work Saturday,” he continued, even though they had no power, no water and no sewer service. “And I think that’s hats off.” His voice quavered as he made those statements.
Likewise, he continued, some of the Sarasota Police Department officers who have been working at the Sarasota County Fairgrounds on Fruitville Road, where FPL has been staging linemen, do not have power.
In fact, he told the commissioners, he himself lives in Nokomis, and his power was still off that day.
City employees, he added, “are doing an awesome job out there, across the board.”
Commissioners took the opportunity to commend Kerkering and other city employees for their efforts. In fact, Commissioner Hagen Brody noted that other city employees had to rescue City Auditor and Clerk Shayla Griggs.