Irma’s impact not over for unforeseeable future

Irma’s impact not over for unforeseeable future
Mark Krancer captured the irony in this shot of Hightide Burrito Company during the storm surge Sept. 11.(Photo by Mark Krancer)

Boyer calls immediate response good.

The numbers are still being tallied but one thing is certain: Hurricane Irma has given San Marco a lot to think about. The historic storm that sent the St. Johns River over its banks Sept. 11, 2017 hit the historic district hard.

District 5 Councilwoman Lori Boyer said the cost of the damage to private property will far exceed public damage, which was mostly to docks, fencing and bulkheads.

“In terms of the public damage in San Marco, those aren’t going to be enormous numbers,” Boyer said. “Money is already in the budget for bulkhead repairs at Riverfront Park. The delays in the bidding process may have worked in our favor.

“It’s the private damage that’s going to be the enormous number. It will be very different than in other years. In [Hurricane] Matthew we had tree and debris, and we might have more with Irma, but what we didn’t have was flooding. It is extensive and it will be very costly for homeowners, tenants and business owners.”  Jacksonville Orthopedic Institute (JOI) and Baptist MD Anderson experienced flooding and reopened three days after the storm.

“Baptist Health took this opportunity to renovate and remodel the JOI operating rooms and rehabilitation center,” spokeswoman Cindy Hamilton said

The new rehab center opened Oct. 2 with an additional operating room for JOI outpatient services.

Hamilton said Baptist doesn’t yet have a dollar figure for the storm damage but it will exceed Matthew, which cost $3.6 million.

The business district immediately south of the hospital was the hardest hit area with businesses closest to the river getting four to five feet of water. The businesses closed for repairs include Bistro Aix, European Street, OE&S, Dance Trance and others. Dates for reopening are uncertain.

That stretch of San Marco Boulevard is famous for its flooding. The city upgraded the drainage a number of years ago, which has helped.

“This wasn’t about drainage,” Boyer said. “This was about storm surge. This was the worst surge in 184 years. We don’t have a drainage system that can address that.”

The city has pumping stations on Landon Avenue and Nira at Children’s Way. Money is in the budget for a third pumping station on Lasalle Street, Boyer said.

“Even if we had had that third pumping station it wouldn’t have helped,” Boyer said. “Pumps improve the speed of rain removal. We pump it into the river. If you have storm surge, you would be pumping it into the river that is coming over the wall.”

One solution would be to build higher bulkheads but that’s very expensive. “We could build the Riverfront Park bulkhead two feet higher but unless everyone else does it, it’s not going to accomplish anything because the water will just flow around it,” Boyer said.

Real estate impact

That is small comfort to realtor Cindy Powell, who owns two condominiums at River Road and Landon Avenue. She lives in one and leases the others in the two quadplexes.

“I’ve had to gut my four downstairs units. Tear out the walls and the floors. It’s down to the studs,” Powell said. “FEMA won’t cover it because it’s rental. And now I have to rewire but insurance won’t cover it because it’s considered an upgrade. I really don’t know how I’m going to come out of this.

“You need cash to get things rolling. That’s what makes it so difficult. We haven’t received any insurance money yet. I’m just taking it one day at a time, really one minute at a time. I was hoping to get them back on the market by the end of October, but someone told me that wasn’t realistic.”

Farther south on River Road, realtor Missie Sarra LePrell just had a lot of yard debris to clear out.

“I probably received 50 calls from around the country from clients and friends asking how I was because they had seen San Marco on the news,” LePrell said.
Irma will definitely have an impact on the real estate market, she said.

“Some of the houses on the market had to be taken off for repairs,” she said. “When they go back to market, the sellers will have to make disclosures about the damage, the repairs and show receipts. If the work was done properly, it will be fine. They might be in better shape with new floors, walls and upgrades. But buyers need to be sure they get the disclosure and the records.”
LePrell said the storm might hurt the market in the short term, but she thinks in the long term it will help because it showed that San Marco is a great place to live.

“People have banded together. You saw the camaraderie of the neighborhood,” she said. “You are coming to one of the nicest neighborhoods. The storm just evidenced that it to highest degree. You saw what the neighborhood was like. It was truly beautiful.”

Early lessons

Boyer said she has three take-aways from the storm.

People who live in flood zones now know it’s a good investment to buy flood insurance. “People thought it would never happen,” Boyer said. “There are a lot of people who didn’t have insurance and are suffering significant losses. The accuracy of the maps has been verified.”

The city needs to address whether it should continue to facilitate development in flood plains. “It is permittable to build in a flood zone. You have to build high enough, but is that wise from a city economic development standpoint? If they have to be rescued, it’s not a good public policy decision.”

People will have greater confidence in the emergency operations system. “When they say, you need to evacuate, you should believe them.” About 264,000 people live in the areas ordered evacuated during Irma.

Overall, Boyer said she thinks the City did a good job with its immediate response to the storm. “I’m not defending JEA’s communications with its customers but the line workers did a good job. We didn’t have any loss of life. I think it was a pretty good plan.”


By Lilla Ross
Resident Community News

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