October 21, 2016 1:00 a.m.
With Hurricane Matthew driven northward and the return of the temperate northeastern Florida weather and sunshine, the last few weeks have been a flurry of activity following the storm.
The City’s special debris contractor began residential debris removal (mainly trees) roughly four days after the storm. Crews were deployed to the north end of the City to work south and the south end of the City to work north. As of Tuesday this week, approximately four hundred tons of debris (estimated to be about thirty percent of the total debris) had been removed from the streets. With the cooperation of Rayonier Advanced Materials through the use of its scales, the debris is weighed and then transported to the City’s Airport. At the Airport, the material is ground into wood chips.
The final destination of the wood chips varies. Some of the chips may be transported to a landfill. Some may be provided to the local mills. The City may keep some for uses around the City (playgrounds, weed control, etc.).
Given the amount of debris, a second “debris collection tour” will begin next week, again from the north south and the south north. I expect that after the second tour, regular yard waste collection will resume by the City’s solid waste hauler, Advanced Disposal. As with the first tour, please keep the following issues in mind. Debris must be placed in the right-of-way, not on private property. Debris must not be placed in plastic bags. Separate yard debris (vegetation) from any building material- only those two types of debris are being collected. If possible, please refrain from parking on the street until after the debris in your area has been collected. Finally, the City collection tour only travels City streets- the County and State are responsible for clean-up on their streets (such as 8th Street, Atlantic Avenue, and S. Fletcher Avenue). The first tour has gone somewhat smoothly, with minimal issues, and I hope that the second sweep completes the residential clean-up.
The City’s Bosque Bello cemetery suffered extensive tree damage. Given the confines, the history, and the sanctity of that area, clean-up will proceed more cautiously. The City’s municipal golf course lost dozens of trees, and clean-up will have to be carefully handled at that location. The City’s Airport suffered some hangar roof damage as well as lighting and sign damage.
The most extensive City damage was to the marina. The lengthy western breakwater “sacrificed” itself to protect the southern inner marina. The pilings and rods holding the breakwater sections in place have been battered- all but one of the nearly one hundred concrete pilings had their guides broken, meaning that the breakwater sections, designed to accommodate vertical movement with the tides, now also have horizontal movement. Sections of the inner marina dock have nearly capsized, and the dock house has had concrete sections broken and has struggled to stay afloat. Boardwalks, brick pathways, fuel and electrical lines are busted. Docks have drifted away and ramps have sunk.
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) officials have conducted several visits to the damaged City facilities. Damage assessments have been prepared and submitted by City officials for FEMA review. As has been repeated, the City must await direction from FEMA officials prior to embarking on repairs if the City is to be eligible for federal reimbursement.
Following authorization from the appropriate authorities, though, it may be worthwhile to consider the long-term perspective and view the overall opportunities available. Short-term operational repairs can be implemented, but before investing sizeable amounts of money to repair existing facilities, perhaps we should consider more far-reaching goals.
Consider that the City is working with the Florida Department of Transportation and railroad officials to open the Alachua Street crossing. This opening will affect Front Street, which will have an impact on the City’s recently purchased Front Street property. The effects will also flow northward toward the Port and continue southward to Centre Street, the marina, Parking Lots A and B, Ash Street, and Parking Lots C and D. Some of those projects have been considered individually or in conjunction with a few others, but how many projects viewed the totally of the area, especially the new opportunity to possibly redevelop the marina as part of the landward projects? I expect that this discussion will be a key part of the City Commission’s next visioning session. Given that the currently proposed marina expansion to the north awaits review and permit for the moving of the navigational channel, we have sufficient time to develop a vision.
I am aware of how previous efforts have bogged under politics, personalities, and pride. It will be a challenge to work with interested stakeholders on how to proceed, but I believe the City Commission can provide the necessary leadership. The next several months should be an exciting time for our community.