Power outages remain among top frustrations for county residents in Irma’s aftermath

‘Comfort stations’ offered to aid those still with no electricity; county announcing more openings of libraries and parks

FPL is featuring this banner on its homepage. Image from Florida Power & Light Co.

While many Sarasota County operations were returning to near normalcy by the afternoon of Sept. 14, residents still without power were the most frustrated, based on comments The Sarasota News Leader heard.

As of 4 p.m. Sept. 14, Florida Power & Light Co. reported that 67,000 customers in the county had no electricity, out of the 218,840 affected by Irma.

The good news was that 151,840 customers once again were enjoying use of the internet and their televisions, among all the other modern conveniences operated by electricity.

FPL continued to post this note on its Power Tracker website:

“We estimate we will have restored power to essentially all of our customers along the west coast service territory by the end of day, Sept. 22, with the possible exception of areas impacted by tornadoes, severe flooding and other pockets of severe damage.”

That was no comfort whatsoever to Siesta Key resident Michael Shay and 52 other customers apparently served by the same part of FPL’s grid.

What infuriated Shay, he told the News Leader on Sept. 14, was that he had been reporting outages each month since April to FPL. They ranged from one hour in duration to three or four hours, he added. Each time, he learned from the power company’s online reporting system that 53 customers were affected. “The same 53 customers,” he felt sure, he said.

Michael Shay. File photo

“We’ve had a problem, a consistent problem, that FPL has not addressed, he added.

After filing a formal complaint in August, Shay continued, he learned from a company representative who called him that the matter was being turned over to an FPL engineer and it would be resolved. He never heard another word from the company about it, he said, and then Irma hit.

“Right now, I’m sitting here in the house,” he said, with the temperature in the 80s. He was keeping the windows shut, he continued, for fear that the high humidity would exacerbate his misery.

Still, Shay was left to wonder whether repairs to what he suspects was a single piece of equipment would have meant his power would have been restored before that afternoon.

He and his wife and dog did evacuate the Key, as directed by Sarasota County Emergency Management staff last Friday, and while the power did go at the home of his host, it came back on within probably 12 hours, he added.

Although he could continue to spend nights at the host’s home, Shay said, he feared leaving his house unoccupied for long stretches. Already, he pointed out, he has seen several suspicious vehicles driving through his neighborhood. He added that he remains wary not only of scam artists (see the related story in this issue), but also opportunists looking to break into unoccupied homes.

“There’s nobody in my complex. It’s a ghost town.”

“I know this is a difficult time for [FPL],” he acknowledged, but he hopes company reps will take him more seriously whenever he actually can reach a representative again, with emphasis on the “whenever.”

On Sept. 14, Sarasota County Government announced that it has opened “comfort stations,” where members of the public still without power may charge their phones, get water and just enjoy being in the A/C. The county has provided a list of those facilities.

These ‘comfort stations’ are open, Sarasota County announced on Sept. 14. Image from Sarasota County Government via Twitter

What about all the debris?

A member of a City of Sarasota Public Works Department crew clears storm debris, as shown in a city video. Image from City of Sarasota via Twitter

Among other key concerns, residents have been asking a lot of questions about collection of storm debris, based on discussion during the Sept. 13 County Commission meeting.

General storm debris pickup is to begin on Monday, Sept. 18, and continue until it has been completed, a county webpage reports.

Moreover, a county news release issued during the afternoon of Sept. 14 says the following:

  • An additional five hours of operations at the county’s landfill have been planned on Saturday. The facility will be open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. that day, and it will reopen on Sunday, Sept. 17, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. for residents to dispose of vegetative debris only, the news release stressed.
    • Four crews are working with the county’s Public Works Department to clear debris and unblock roadways.
    • Waste Management is operating 13 hours a day, Monday through Saturday.

“As additional services become available and steps are taken, we’ll update [a county] webpage with new information,” the release says. “The updates will also be shared on the county’s Facebook page and @SRQCountyGov,” the release adds.

The county resumed regular residential collections on Sept. 13 in the unincorporated areas.

Additionally, the City of Venice is working with Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) contractors to get storm debris picked up in that municipality, the county has announced. The bulk pickup of the debris is set to begin Wednesday, Sept. 20, for City of Venice customers.

Anyone in the unincorporated areas of the county who has questions about storm debris removal may call 855-866-5654.

In the City of Sarasota normal garbage collection resumed on Sept. 14, the city announced. “A storm debris schedule is being compiled and will be announced soon,” most likely next week, a news release said. For more information about city plans, call 954-4198.

Taxes, parks and libraries

Siesta Public Beach is quiet on Sept. 9 before Irma hits. Image from Sarasota County via Twitter

Other updates have been provided late this week.

Two offices of the Sarasota County Tax Collector reopened on reopened on Sept. 14: the Downtown Sarasota Office — www.SarasotaTaxCollector.com/locations#DowntownSarasota; and the Venice Office — www.SarasotaTaxCollector.com/locations#Venice.

“All other locations remain closed at this time, but we hope to be fully operational next week,” a Tax Collector’s Office news release said. “Thank you for your patience while we restore services to all our locations and ensure the safety of our staff. We look forward to serving you!” Deputy Tax Collector Rana A. Moye wrote in the release.

Park and beach openings are updated daily on the Sarasota County website. As of 4:31 p.m. on Sept. 14, 101 parks were fully open, while 24 were partially open. Among the latter was Siesta Public Beach, which has been a victim of remaining power outages on the island; however, Beach Accesses 1 through 5, as well as 7 through 13, were fully open. Turtle Beach Park also was welcoming the public.

On the mainland, the Arlington Park and Aquatic Complex and the Payne Park Tennis Center were just partially open, the website noted.

As of just before noon on Sept. 14, the following openings in the county also had been announced:

  • Venice Library at the Hamilton Building, located at 260 N. Nokomis Ave. in Venice.
  • Gulf Gate Library, located at 7112 Curtiss Ave. in Sarasota.
  • North Port Library, located at 13800 S. Tamiami Trail in North Port.
  • Selby Library, located at 1331 First St. in Sarasota.
  • Osprey Library at Historic Spanish Point at 337 N. Tamiami Trail in Osprey.
    • BOB Building (Sarasota Operations Center), located at 1001 Sarasota Center Blvd. in Sarasota, is operating with normal business hours.
  • The Health and Human Services/Health Departmentis open with limited services; it is located at 2200 Ringling Blvd. in Sarasota.
  • The Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Office opened all its locations on Sept. 14.
  • All county and circuit courts in Desoto, Manatee and Sarasota counties are open on their normal schedules.