City of North Port reflects one year post-Ian
NORTH PORT Fla. (WWSB) - Officials gathered ahead of the anniversary of Hurricane Ian to discuss their response as a community.
Ian greatly affected North Port when it made landfall on Florida’s Gulf Coast on Sept. 28, 2022.
The eyewall slowly made its way across North Port, bringing extreme wind gusts and an unprecedented 22 inches of rainfall in one day that led to widespread flooding. Ian has been referred to as a 500-year flood, or levels of flooding with a 0.2% chance of happening during any given year. Seven deaths in North Port were attributed to the storm.
“Ian was a storm none of us have experienced in our lifetimes and probably never will again,” City Manager Jerome Fletcher said. “It left scars on North Port, but we continue to heal. I am proud of the way our team and our entire community came together with our federal, state and Sarasota County partners to meet this challenge.”
The City recalled the lessons it learned as well as recollections of agency’s different responses. Here is the full list of responses from varying sectors affected in the storm:
As soon as the storm passed, North Port’s first responders went into action. North Port Fire Rescue responded to 1,312 incidents in the immediate days after Ian, performing difficult water rescues of citizens while navigating dangerous floodwaters and storm debris. The North Port Police Department provided service around the clock and instituted and enforced a curfew to ensure the health, safety and welfare of residents.
Agencies from around the country sent personnel and resources to North Port in the days and weeks that followed to provide mutual aid and relief to the City’s first responders.
Assistance to citizens
The City’s Social Services Division has worked with numerous area agencies to coordinate the outpouring of donated items and various relief programs offered to affected residents. The Division has distributed 300 Hurricane Ian Relief Vouchers to North Port residents totaling $75,000 and is pre-screening residents who may be eligible for Hurricane Ian relief funding from the United Way of South Sarasota County. Eligible expenditures include basic needs such as rent or mortgage, utilities, medical and prescription costs, childcare, phone, minor essential home repairs and automotive repairs. Residents can call Social Services at 941-429-3700 to be prescreened. More information about all kinds of assistance can be found at https://www.northportfl.gov/City-Services-and-Safety/Residents/Social-Services .
The Department of Public Works managed a multi-month storm debris collection effort by City contractors that resulted in over 2 million cubic yards of debris being collected. By comparison, a total of 50,000 cubic yards of debris was collected in North Port after Hurricane Irma in 2017.
Road and infrastructure repairs
Public Works oversaw the reconstruction of four waterway crossings on Price Boulevard and two integral arterial roads, Hillsborough and Chancellor boulevards, that were made impassable due to damage from Ian.
The Utilities Department worked to harden infrastructure in our City, including boring new underground utilities pipes at bridges and box culverts along Price Boulevard to prevent future storm damage.
Storm-related repairs were also made to Biscayne Drive, Chancellor Avenue, Cranberry Boulevard, Eldron Avenue, Hillsborough Boulevard, Ronald Street, Toledo Blade Boulevard and Zellwood Terrace. Since Oct. 1, the City has repaired about 3,700 potholes, the equivalent of over 65 tons of asphalt, on City-maintained streets.
With its location at the southwest portion of a large watershed, the City’s drainage system includes more than 80 miles of waterways intended to keep stormwater flowing from our northern neighbors through North Port and out to the Gulf of Mexico. The system, designed by General Development Corporation in the 1950s to manage a 10-year, five-day storm (9.6 inches of rain over a five-day period), was overwhelmed by Ian’s historic rainfall.
Road and Drainage crews consistently maintain the drainage system to make our community less susceptible to flooding. In preparation for Ian, water control structure gates were lowered to remove water from the system and increase capacity.
After the storm, crews spent four months clearing and removing debris from every R-ditch within 48 grids throughout the City. Public Works also addressed significant erosion around Water Control Structures 106 and 123 and completed inspections of all significant stormwater management structures, bridges and critical infrastructure. The City is utilizing information learned from Ian’s impacts to identify opportunities to harden the system and/or improve water flow.
The Development Services Department helped numerous property owners navigate federal regulations and permitting for the extensive repairs needed to address storm damage.
The blistering pace of new construction projects has continued over the past year. The City has issued more than 19,000 permits and performed more than 93,000 inspections this fiscal year, both records.
Through strong financial stewardship and budgeting of healthy reserves, the City was well positioned to pay for emergency needs during and after Ian. The City’s Grant Division is managing the reimbursement process and has recovered $27.7 million to date through the FEMA Public Assistance program. An additional $15 million has been obligated and is in the process of being reimbursed to the City.
The City continues to pursue all additional funding opportunities, including working with Sarasota County to identify areas of need for community assistance through Resilient SRQ, the Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery program.
Soon after the storm, North Port’s Economic Development Division launched a Business Recovery Call Center, with City employees reaching out to more than 1,200 local businesses to connect them with the resources they needed. A comprehensive Hurricane Resource Guide, containing vital information on federal, state, and local business assistance and resources, was also shared via email and traditional mail, and local businesses were encouraged to complete the State of Florida’s Business Damage Assessment Survey.
In November 2022, the City facilitated and hosted a recovery workshop that included the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) and other federal agencies to begin the conversation of recovery and resiliency.
City facilities and operations
City facilities were not spared from Ian’s damage, suffering an estimated $7 million in damages from the storm, including roof replacements and other repairs.
The Utilities Department administration building and Parks and Recreation maintenance facility were destroyed, and employees continue to work out of temporary trailers until a new facility can be constructed.
The Parks and Recreation Department performed extensive cleanup and repairs to the City’s parks and recreation facilities, including Warm Mineral Springs Park, before they could safely reopen to the public.
The City is building a long-term resiliency plan in partnership with the Olson Group, Ltd., which specializes in aiding local governments with emergency preparedness and recovery. Input gathered from the public and community stakeholders through surveys and virtual and in-person workshops will help build a plan that improves our ability to recover from future disasters.
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