Sunday, September 15, 2019

RECORD EDITORIAL | Hurricane preparation trumps mitigation. (SAR)

"When did Noah build the ark?  Before the rain."  
            -- Robert Redford, as "Nathan Muir" in Spy Game

Rather than prepare for hurricanes, St. Johns County developers build homes on sand and in swamps.

Today'sRecord editorial quotes dishonest developer-directed St. Johns County Administrator MICHAEL DAVID WANCHICK, the maladroit manager with two Master's degrees, the mendacious twit from Richardson, Texas and Broward County, Florida, the man who:
  • Concealed a critical Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General audit of County FEMA reimbursement procedures
  • Never issued a press release on the DHS Inspector General audit of St. Johns County
  • Never shared the Inspector General audit of St. Johns County
  • Bears responsibility for many of the 31+ communities built in swamps or low-lying areas, including some built when the county engineer was not an engineer

RECORD EDITORIAL | Hurricane preparation trumps mitigation
Posted Sep 14, 2019 at 7:58 PM

The tropical storm heading our way doesn’t resemble Dorian in many ways other than a forecast of its path, which is eerily similar.

As of this writing (Sept. 13) we’re not expecting much more than a welcome deluge for most of Northeast Florida — though a worry for low-lying areas, especially along bloated creeks.

You may have read just after Dorian’s narrow passage off our coast and into the Carolinas that President Trump had made an emergency declaration for most of Florida’s East Coast. As it turns out there was little structural damage other than an early estimation of more than $50 million in damage to state beaches.

The emergency declaration does not cover storm preparation; only damage.

This week, Sen. Marco Rubio sent a letter to President Trump asking for what’s called Category B reimbursements. These are funds that supposedly take care of hurricane preparedness costs, rather than actual damage.

And we would expect those costs to be significant here, especially in the case of Dorian. County Administrator Mike Wanchick and Jesse Dunn, the county’s director of management and budget, told us Friday there were no estimates as yet. But Wanchick noted the preparation here could easily eclipse prior hurricanes if for nothing other than the duration of the threat with that crawling killer.

It also seems clear preparations were perhaps more structured and intense because of the immediate size and strength of the storm which bore down on our coasts from the Bahamas with 200 mph-plus winds.

There’s ample criticism lingering for forecasters second-guessing this monster storm. We understand but can’t agree. Forecasting hurricane paths is the best science played out on TV with its pants around its ankles.

And we certainly can’t fault local storm preparedness efforts for trying to button up infrastructure and round up residents — all in the name of safety. If they did not attempt to take on a worst case scenario, they weren’t doing their jobs.

Wanchick said an estimate may still be more than a week away. All the working parts of disaster preparedness need to weigh-in with their slice of the preparation pie, including, the Sheriff’s office and Beach and City law enforcement, the school district, and the constitutional officers. All kept staff dodging and weaving with the punch-drunk hurricane for nearly a week.

The stateside “guestimate,” not estimate, is around $197 million right now for storm preparation.

So, as is, local governments are footing the bill for the local efforts. There is concern that some won’t go as far facing another hurricane threat if the Category B reimbursements don’t come in.

Rubio’s letter to Trump said in part: “While I consider ourselves fortunate the path of Hurricane Dorian veered away from the peninsula of Florida, I cannot forget the costs that localities have incurred to protect their communities over the past several hurricane seasons. Within the last three years, Florida has been directly impacted by Hurricanes, Michael, Irma, Hermine and Matthew. Many of these communities are still awaiting federal reimbursements for monies spent to rebuild and restore ... and will face a significant challenge in preparing for the next storm without federal financial assistance.”

Storm preparations are as important — or more — than storm recovery. The former is more about lives, the latter about infrastructure.

It would be a wrong-headed message to deny Category B money to communities going to extremes for a hurricane whose strength and erratic path has never been witnessed in the Western Atlantic.

Dorian was an anomaly — we must pray.

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