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Sanibel initiates Hurricane Action Plan; recommends evacuation

By Staff | Sep 6, 2017

Mayor Kevin Ruane said life is too precious and those who can evacuate from Sanibel should go.

“My simple words of advice is if you don’t need to be here and you have some other place to be please take that into consideration. There is a camera system set up FL511 throughout the state of Florida. You can certainly see what traffic looks like,” Ruane said at emergency Sanibel City Council meeting called Wednesday. “There is no requirement for anyone to leave. I’m just giving you encouragement, if you have a brother, sister, aunt, or uncle, whatever in a different state and you have flexibility, it probably wouldn’t be a bad idea to consider that seriously. That would be my word of wisdom.”

He said the city does not anticipate any evacuations ahead of Hurricane Irma yet.

“Our goal with this council is really about human safety, public safety and property safety,” he said.

In light of President Donald Trump declaring a preparatory state of emergency for the entire state of Florida, the governor declaring all 67 Florida counties under a state of emergency and the Lee County Board of County Commissioners declaring a local state of emergency, the City of Sanibel also declared a local state of emergency during its Wednesday meeting.

City Manager Judie Zimomra said that would help if there was a FEMA declaration on when they can start counting expenses, helps advise residents how important it is that they can have a potential emergency based on the direction the storm takes and where it lands and it gives them the option to have another 24 hours to continuously watch the storm very closely.

Before the meeting was held Wednesday afternoon, Zimomra said they had various meetings with each staff department for updates. A partners meeting was also held, she said, which packed City Hall.

“We are fully engaged in our emergency management plan execution,” she said.

If an emergency evacuation is declared, the city is fully prepared to move City Hall operations to the Bell Tower Crown Plaza.

“This storm is still a very large and dangerous storm. One way going the wrong way and we can be in a lot of harms way,” Chief of Police William Dalton said, adding that they have initiated their Hurricane Action Plan, and taking initial steps within.

Public Works Director Keith Williams said their activation plan includes coordinating the solid waste disposal times associated with pick up times later this week, and rollout of solid waste facilities. He said two Dumpsters will be rolled out to the boat ramp park beginning tomorrow for residents who wish to dispose of perishables when they head off the island if they are leaving.

Williams said the city’s fuel tanks have also been replenished. They have a supply that will allow them to carry on for three to four weeks.

They have also been in contact with contractors who are carrying out city projects on the island, telling them to button down their worksites and demode their equipment and leave the most safe environment for the citizens of the island.

Finance Department Director Steven Chaipel said Tuesday they initiated their procedures, which allows them to be a little more flexible with securing information of the needs of the public and city. He said they also transferred some cash from their disaster reserves to the operating account.

Recreation Director Andrea Miller said the Recreation Center and Center for Life are operating under normal business hours. The after school activities, however she said are cancelled. She said they are currently working on buttoning down everything at the ball field complex.

Building Director Harold Law said as of Thursday they will shut down applications and issuing permits. He said they are working on notifying the structural safety inspectors of pre-evacuation notices if needed.

Planning Director Jim Jordan said they have suspended all permits until further notice. He said they have also implemented removing all newspaper racks and boxes off of the street Wednesday morning.

Zimomra said anything in high winds that could potentially be a projectile, they city is working to either get them off the street, or off the island, or secured underneath a building under construction.

Ruane said last night he was on the phone with the governor, who has been very receptive to any of their needs. He said the governor has called several times to make sure they are fine.

“The League of Florida Mayors have been very proactive in doing so,” he said. “Water seems to be an issue. He assured that all supplies will be replenished in the next 24 hours. Gas seems to be an issue. We were out last night at the Speedway. I have a direct number to call. About an hour later there was gas.”

Ruane said if anyone has issues with gas, or water, feel free to give City Council a call and let them know, so they can communicate it to the governor’s office.

Sand bags, another item being sought, should be replenished Wednesday afternoon.

Ruane said water will be released from Lake Okeechobee east, west and south in preparation of the storm. He said if they were directly hit, it would go from 13 feet to 19 feet very quickly.

“We are doing everything proactively,” he said.

Natural Resources Director James Evans said based on the storm projections, the Army Corps of Engineers has moved forward with regulatory releases from the lake.

“They are looking to discharge water in all directions, to the east, west and south to get the lake level down to a level that can take some additional water,” Evans said.

The Natural Resource Department, he said are doing pre-storm beach inspections to look at the state of erosion, as well as looking at the beach facilities along the beach.

Evans said they are also working closely with the Public Works Department to look at when they can move out of the system to keep water levels within the Tarpon Bay Beach Road basins at a level where they will not flood.

The communication with all of the agencies, Ruane said has been overwhelming to say the least.

“The communication has been outstanding,” he said.

Zimomra said starting at 5:06 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 31, Hurricane Irma has been on the city’s radar. She said at that point it was 3,050 miles east of the Sanibel Causeway. Regular updates have been provided regarding the storm since then.

The City Clerk and City Attorney’s office have been working diligently, Zimomra said to prepare and draft a variety of legislation to be ready if the storm takes a turn for the island.

Hurricane evacuation passes were also discussed during the meeting.

She said it is very important that everyone understand that they would not keep someone, if there is an evacuation, from their property once they return if they do not have a hurricane pass.

“The best analogy I have for a hurricane pass is if you have ever been to Disney and you have bought the Fast Pass. That’s your Fast Pass. When we go to reenter the island, in the past, it may not be Sanibel police officers at the toll booths. It may be a national guardsman, or a police officer on loan from Sunrise, Florida like they were the last time,” Zimomra said. “They don’t recognize every Sanibel resident. Your driver’s license with your address is sufficient to reenter the island. But, what we did learn is the amount of time it takes every person to get their driver’s license out takes time. If you have a hang tag and you have it visible, you get waved through.”

She said no one should panic if they do not have a pass.