Charlotte County leaders discuss infrastructure as emergency response phase comes to close

Charlotte County debris clean-up. (CREDIT: WINK News)

Charlotte County is almost exiting its emergency response phase nearly two weeks after Hurricane Ian, according to the county’s director of emergency management Patrick Fuller.

Following the storm, the county had a team of people who reported to work immediately to begin the push process. A series of maps that highlighted what areas needed resources and clean up on roads were distributed as the process began.

Within 36 hours, the initial push roads, which are major infrastructure roads to get people to hospitals and ambulance corridors were cleared. On the seventh day of response, all areas on the maps were cleared.

“In my experience working here 34 years, this was an insane timeframe that we were able to get the push open,” said public works director John Elias. “The initial short-term issue that we have to do is the push. Simultaneously while the push is going on, they’re mobilizing for debris removal.”

The county is in the process of debris removal, with four temporary storm debris drop off locations for residents at Placida West Boat Ramp, 12560 Placida Road; Florida Street, South County Area, 7000 Florida St. in Punta Gorda; Mid-County Mini-Transfer & Recycling Facility, 19765 Kenilworth Blvd. in Port Charlotte; and West Charlotte Mini-Transfer & Recycling Facility, 7070 Environmental Way in Englewood.

All four locations are open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, accepting white goods, storm-related yard or vegetation debris and construction and demolition debris from residential properties. Due to limited maneuvering space, residents are asked to bring trailers that do not exceed 12 feet in length.

For residents unable to bring debris to drop off locations, the county is currently looking into options to assist in private property debris removal, as an official request for public assistance through the Federal Emergency Management Agency would have to be made.

The county’s monitoring firm, AshBritt and Tetra Tech, is expecting a minimum of 2 million cubic yards of debris from the storm.

As of Tuesday morning, the county had 118 signalized intersections, with 17 still down. “A lot of these that are working go back down,” Elias said. “The ones that aren’t operational are going to require a complete overhaul.”

The county also has 80,000 signs that are going to be replaced or repaired, many of which are stop signs.

As far as electricity is concerned, Florida Power and Light indicates the county is at 99% and Lee County Electric Cooperative had about 25 accounts that hadn’t been restored as of Tuesday morning.

Electricity has been restored to the county’s retail sector, meaning most of the county’s grocery stores and restaurants are up and running and water is now drinkable.

The county’s water system is back to normal operations, as the last boil water notice in the county was lifted on Monday. However, the county is still addressing some minor leaks in the system.

The wastewater system is almost back to normal, with 17 of 315 lift stations running on generator power.

The county has also been partnering with other agencies to identify potential short-term impacts like bacteria levels, and long-term concerns such as nutrient inflows, organic matter and dissolved oxygen impacts to the harbor, Lemon Bay, and upstream areas of Charlotte County.

In terms of bacteria, levels do not cause concern, except for a portion of Charlotte Harbor where Alligator Creek comes south of Punta Gorda where fecal indicator bacteria is high.

In Lemon Bay and Tom Adams Bridge, and in the regions where Rocky Creek, Oyster Creek and Buck Creek come in, bacteria levels are off the charts.

“I would try to minimize your direct interaction with the water,” said water quality manager Brandon Moody. “Don’t go swimming and whatnot until we get some more data to get a better handle as to whether or not those bacteria levels are going down.”

In terms of numbers, Moody said the results for a couple of those areas were too numerous to count, meaning there were so many colonies of bacteria that they can’t even provide a number.

Oxygen levels are normal throughout the main part of the harbor and Lemon Bay, with the expectation of levels changing as organic matter starts to break down, ultimately dropping oxygen levels.

The Peace River and the Myakka River already have extremely low oxygen levels from top to bottom, expecting to see stress on fish populations in the area.

“This is what we’re really concerned about right now,” Moody said. “It’s just seeing what’s going to happen to the fish populations in these areas and whether or not those low oxygen conditions are going to spread far enough into the harbor that is going to cause risk to the fish community in that region.”

As of Tuesday, all the emergency rooms in Charlotte County are open, expecting to have some small inpatient capabilities on Monday, including some operating room, interventional radiology, cath labs and endoscopy capabilities.

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