St. Johns County Recovers from Fay

Risk Management
Historic City News was informed that St. Johns County continues in the recovery stage following the severe weather brought last week by Tropical Storm Fay. In total, Fay dumped an estimated 9-12 inches of rain in St. Johns County and caused over one million dollars in damage to individual residences and businesses.

St. Johns County staff, including Emergency Management, Parks & Recreation, Engineering, Risk Management and the Property Appraiser’s Office worked closely with FEMA Damage Assessment Teams on Monday to survey the impact from Tropical Storm Fay. The time required to complete these assessments is increased because of the continued growth in many previously rural parts of the county. The FEMA Teams will submit their findings to their regional office for review. St. Johns County will be notified upon completion of the review whether the County meets the threshold for federal assistance.

Despite the damage sustained from Tropical Storm Fay, County Administrator Michael D. Wanchick is pleased with the way St. Johns County was prepared for the storm and responded during the crucial days it lingered. Many County Departments have made concentrated efforts over the past few years to prepare and train staff for emergency situations, as well as prepare infrastructure to withstand a storm; infrastructure that is frequently pointed to as inadequately keeping pace with residential growth.

The community has invested in many capital improvement projects, which paid off tremendously during the storm. One example is improved drainage systems, which properly drained areas previously hindered by flooding, including the Pine Acres neighborhood adjacent to Kings Estate Road and the Mandarin Meadows neighborhood adjacent to Fruit Cove Road — two of the faster growing parts of the county.

Another area of improvement during Tropical Storm Fay was the County Utility facilities, which worked properly throughout the storm and resulted in no malfunctions. Recent technological commitments to laptop computers and automated, radio-controlled equipment vastly improved the County’s ability to respond to rapidly changing conditions. Pre-positioned backup pumps and generators enabled staff to anticipate problem areas caused by abnormally high wastewater flows and, as a result, no wastewater overflows or backups occurred. Additionally, the distribution of drinking water was never affected despite numerous power outages.

Additionally, the beaches withstood the high winds and rain remarkably well and experienced no more erosion than they do in a typical nor’easter storm. Parks and Recreation Director Troy Blevins reported the erosion to be significant, but not devastating. Unfortunately, the County lost several sea turtle nests from the shores due to Tropical Storm Fay.

Wanchick also applauds staff from various County departments, Constitutional Offices, electrical and utility companies, community groups, and other government agencies who worked in coordination throughout the storm to staff the Emergency Operations Center, ensure the safety of residents and help expedite the recovery process. Crews constantly monitored adversely and potentially affected areas, conditions of roadways, drainage systems, erosion status, utility services and other possible disruptions to service.

“This incident was a very good functional experience for all levels of local government and will help to further improve the preparedness, response and recovery functions in our County,” said Ray Ashton, Director of Emergency Management. Staff members routinely prepare for emergencies through training exercises and emergency management seminars. Emergency planning at the local level mirrors the planning done at both the state and federal levels, which has created an efficient and smooth process for coordination at all levels of emergency response.

St. Johns County was also pleased for the first time to offer an option for residents to access sandbags to protect their homes. Empty bags and piles of sand were made available at four locations around the County, and residents were welcome to come and fill bags as needed. This was relatively inexpensive for the County and allowed a proactive way for citizens to fight the effects of the storm. The County anticipates continuing to offer sandbags for future weather events.

One lingering impact from Tropical Storm Fay is an increased amount of yard debris. St. Johns County Solid Waste will be collecting most of the yard debris with the County’s franchised waste haulers this week. Residents can expect their yard debris, as well as household garbage and recycling, to be picked up on the normal schedule beginning Monday. However, if residents have significantly large amounts of debris (such as a pile the size of a small vehicle) or pieces heavier than 50 pounds (such as a tree that has been cut up), they may contact the Road and Bridge Office at 209-0246 to arrange for curbside pick-up.

County officials encourage residents to let Tropical Storm Fay be a reminder of the importance of being prepared for an emergency. For additional information, please visit the St. Johns County Emergency Management website at www.sjcemergencymanagement.org or call (904) 824-5550.

Photo credit: Historic City News photographer Kerry McGuire

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