Category Archives: Environment

Hurricanes cost DeBary $1.8M over 2 years

After Hurricane Irma in September, tree limbs quickly piled up along streets throughout DeBary.

As residents’ complaints mounted about the debris, DeBary City Council members assembled, agreeing to act quickly to remove the debris and protect residents from public-safety threats.

The debris mostly vanished from River City roads about a month after Irma hit Central Florida in 2017.

Now the cost of Irma is coming into focus. That storm, along with expenses from Hurricane Matthew in 2016, cost DeBary taxpayers $1.8 million over two budget years, City Council members learned during a recent meeting.

Elizabeth Bauer
Elizabeth Bauer

Most of the cost -$1.5 million – came from Irma, said Finance Director Elizabeth Bauer.

The city’s annual budget is about $16 million.

FEMA funds

DeBary hasn’t received any help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for Irma or Matthew. But it continues to ask.

For budgeting purposes, the city is anticipating FEMA funds. It is conservatively estimating federal reimbursements between $932,000 and $14 million in the 2019 budget year. Some of that might come in during this budget year, Bauer said.

If the hurricanes had not happened, the city’s 2017 general fund would have closed with a $562,000 positive cash flow. Instead, it has a negative balance of $75,000, Bauer said.

‘Strong position’

Bauer also said the city is scaling back its mandatory reserve period from 150 days to 120 days because of the budget crunch.

Ron McLemoreInterim City Manager Ron McLemore stressed that DeBary remains financially secure.

“So you’re in a very, very strong position,” McLemore said.

However, he noted that he wants City Council members to chat at some point on ways DeBary can better prepare financially for future storms.

“A series of additional hurricanes at these cost levels, however, could seriously challenge the financial health of the City,” a city memo says.

Fire fees study

City auditors will provide more details about DeBary’s finances during a meeting in March, McLemore said.

The city routinely shifts money from reserves to the general fund to balance the budget.

Annual shortfalls of about $400,000 could grow by another $248,000 annually if Florida voters approve a property-tax exemption in November.

To help pay for public safety, City Council members authorized a $70,000 study in December for a possible fire-protection fee for residents and businesses.

The first phase of the study should be completed in about three to four months.

$140K approved for 3 projects

At the meeting on Jan. 17, City Council members also approved three projects with an estimated cost of $140,000.

City council members discussed these projects last year but delayed a decision because of financial concerns.

“These numbers are so small it doesn’t have that much impact in your budget or your reserves,” McLemore said.

City Council members agreed to spend $70,000 for three automobile-plate readers to help the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office to fight and solve crimes. Sheriff Mike Chitwood explained the technology at the meeting. He first proposed the request in June.

City Council also approved $45,000 to replace a broken-down, 11-year-old truck for the recreation department.

“It’s already been in the shop three times this year. We’re throwing money down a rat hole. We need to go ahead and replace it,” McLemore added.

Council members also agreed to spend $25,000 for a transportation plan to help DeBary better manage mobility issues related to growth.

McLemore said the study will save the city millions of dollars.

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$1.5M available to upgrade septic systems

Got a crappy septic system? The St. Johns River Water Management District wants to help.

The agency has $1.5 million available to help local governments and utilities to replace septic tanks with more efficient systems within the Volusia Blue, Wekiwa and Silver Springs “springsheds.”

The Volusia Blue springshed, headquartered in Orange City’s Blue Spring State Park, covers 130 square miles and includes parts of five cities in Volusia County, including DeBary.

The program is the latest effort announced to help springs in Florida.

The water district will explain the cost-sharing program at 10 a.m. Jan. 22 at its headquarters in Palatka.

You can link to the meeting remotely via Bhttps://global.gotomeeting.com/join/403433773.

“State funds will cover 50 percent and the district will contribute 25 percent toward a program to replace septic tanks with more efficient systems for the removal of nitrates,” the district said in a news release. “With up to $1.5 million in funding available, this program is targeted for areas where extending sewer lines may not be feasible.”

Contacts:

Project Manager Carol Brown at cgbrown@sjrwmd.com or 386-329-4816.

Project Management Bureau Chief Dale Jenkins at drjenkins@sjrwmd.com or 386-312-2304.

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DeBary weather: Freezes over, 56-degree high today

After days of freeze warnings, DeBary and the rest of Central Florida will warm up a bit today. But not by much.

Today’s high will be 56 degrees in the River City. The lows will dip into the 30s overnight.

Sunday will be mostly sunny, with a high near 63.  The low overnight into Monday morning 51.

Monday’s high will be 72 degrees. There’s a 20 percent chance of showers Monday night.  The rain chance jumps to 40 percent Tuesday.

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Duke Energy wants rate hike for Hurricane Irma

DeBary residents and others across Florida would see their energy charges go up to pay for Hurricane Irma costs under a new Duke Energy plan.

Duke residential customers would get a $5.20 monthly rate hike per 1,000 kilowatt-hour of electricity, assuming a three-year payment plan.

The energy giant wants $381 million in “cost recovery” revenue and an additional $132 million to replenish the utility’s storm reserve account.

“This past hurricane season impacted Florida significantly, from damaging homes and infrastructure to affecting agriculture and tourism. Duke Energy Florida understands the impact this filing has on both our residential and business customers,” Harry Sideris, Duke Energy Florida state president, said in a statement. “We will continue making smart investments to significantly enhance service reliability throughout the year, including during storm season.”

Florida Power & Light, another electric provider in DeBary and elsewhere in Florida, has also proposed an Irma-related surcharge.

Customers will be charged $4 a month per 1,000 kilowatt hours, assuming state regulators approve, according to the Palm Beach Post.

Duke Energy came under heavy fire from local officials for response and communication after the storm passed through.

“I have issues with Duke Energy and how they went about it, ” DeBary Mayor Garcia. “Yes, they need a lot of fixing. Yes, they need to turn around and hire more people.”

Florida Power & Light responded within 48 hours and had 98 percent of customers’ power restored after Hurricane Irma, Garcia said.

“Duke Energy took almost nine to 10 days before they turned around and addressed the issue of power in the city of DeBary,” Garcia said.

Duke Energy said it restored power to more than 75 percent of customers in just three days and 99 percent within eight days.

Duke Energy Florida just filed a petition with the Florida Public Service Commission to recover from an estimated $381 million in costs associated with the company’s response to September’s Hurricane Irma in Florida.

In addition, the company is seeking to recover $132 million to replenish its storm reserve fund for use in responding to future storms.

“The company depleted the remaining $62 million in the reserve fund as part of its Hurricane Irma storm response,” a Duke statement said

“Commercial and industrial customers will see an increase of approximately 2.5 to 6.6 percent, though bills will vary depending on a number of factors,” Duke added

The Florida Public Service Commission will review the proposed initial storm cost recovery surcharge within 60 days.

Duke Energy said “crews and contractors traveled to Florida from as far as Canada to get 1.3 million customers restored as quickly and safely as possible.”

In Florida, more than 12,000 line and field workers replaced approximately 1,800 distribution poles, 140 transmission poles and 1,100 transformers.

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West Nile found in person, prompting mosquito-borne illness advisory

All it takes is a single bite.

People can get sick and possibly die after being bitten by mosquitoes carrying West Nile and other viruses.

That fact was highlighted after Volusia County public-health officials revealed a person was infected with West Nile, prompting a mosquito-borne illness advisory Friday.

Use bug spray and take other precautions, including eliminating potential mosquito breeding grounds – anything that holds water,  the advisory said.

The patient – a woman whose name and other identifying information were not revealed – was hospitalized a couple of weeks ago in Volusia’s first human case of West Nile since the summer of 2015, according to WFTV.com and  mynews13.com.

CDC: 1 in 5 develop symptoms

The patient recovered, according to the Orlando Sentinel, which quoted Paul Rehme, director of disease control for Volusia’s health department. He didn’t reveal the patient’s hometown.

He would only say the patient “lives in an area with standing water,” the Sentinel reported.

He also said the woman hadn’t traveled outside the area before getting sick, so officials suspect she contracted the illness locally.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • About 1 in 5 people infected by West Nile develop a fever and other symptoms.
  • About 1 out of 150 infected people develop a serious, sometimes fatal, illness.
  • West Nile interferes with normal central nervous system functioning and causes inflammation of brain tissue.

West Nile in Florida

Volusia is the fourth West Nile case in Florida this year and the only one in Central Florida, the Sentinel said.

The North Florida counties of  Escambia, Santa Rosa and Taylor counties reported one case each this year.

Mosquito activity generally spikes during the summer, when wet conditions combine with warm weather create favorable conditions for insect growth and human exposure.

Mosquitos breed in water and people tend to spend more time outdoors during the summer.

Slow year so far for West Nile

Rehme said recent rains and a warmer-than-usual winter could be influencing mosquito populations, according to WFTV.com and  mynews13.com.

“Statewide, it’s been a good, slow year for West Nile virus, because we’ve only had, until now, three cases statewide,” Rehme told WFTV.com. “Typically, we might get a dozen or so a year.”

Volusia County’s worst year for human West Nile case was 2014 with a record of four patients, according to the Daytona Beach News-Journal.

Volusia: Surveillance, prevention continues

“Volusia County Mosquito Control and DOH-Volusia continue surveillance and prevention efforts,” a news release from health department spokeswoman Holly Smith said.

There is no vaccine.  The best way to stay safe is to avoid bites, stay away from situations and locations where mosquitoes bite, wear bug spray with DEET are eliminate places where mosquitoes breed, including pools of standing water. Such efforts also help prevent the spread of other illnesses linked to mosquitoes, including Zika.

Volusia officials have an aggressive anti-mosquito program all year round.

The county uses chickens to monitor illnesses spread by mosquitoes. They are placed in spots around the county.  Blood samples are tested for signs of diseases.

Volusia: 1 case increases concern

“None of the county’s sentinel chickens have tested positive for antibodies to the virus,” the news release states.  “However, this single case increases the concern for transmission to humans. Sentinel chickens are used to detect some mosquito-borne illnesses, such as West Nile virus. The birds do not develop disease symptoms but will test positive for antibodies if infected.”

Preventing mosquitoes

Residents can help by following these steps:

  • Drain standing water to stop mosquitoes from multiplying.
  • Water collects in garbage cans, house gutters, buckets, pool covers, coolers, toys, flower pots and other containers.
  • Get rid of these potential water containers: old tires, drums, bottles, cans, pots and pans and broken appliances
  • Maintain birdbaths by cleaning at least one or twice a week. Do the same for water bowls for pets.

Encephalitis, meningitis

West Nile virus can cause encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) or meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord), according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“West Nile virus transmission has been documented in Europe and the Middle East, Africa, India, parts of Asia, and Australia. It was first detected in North America in 1999, and has since spread across the continental United States and Canada,” the CDC said online.

“In 1999, 62 cases of severe disease and 7 deaths occurred in New York (including one death of a Canadian infected in New York),” according to the CDC.

EPA repellent-finder tool

For details about bug repellent, use the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s search tool to help select skin-applied repellent products.

Always read label directions carefully and follow directions for application.

“Products with concentrations of up to 30 percent DEET (N, N-diethyl-m-toluamide) are generally recommended,” Volusia’s health department said.

Advisory: Cover skin, make repairs

Volusia’s advisory urges people to wear shoes, socks, and long pants and long-sleeves to reduce opportunities for bug bites.

“This type of protection may be necessary for people who must work in areas where mosquitoes are present,” the advisory states.

Inspect your home and make repairs as needed to keep bugs out.

“Repair broken screening on windows, doors, porches, and patios,” the advisory added.

Volusia watches for other illnesses

Volusia health officials also routinely monitor for other mosquito-borne illnesses, including

Report bird deaths

Florida residents are urged to report birth deaths – a possible indicator of certain mosquito-borne diseases – to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

For more information, visit the Mosquito-Borne and Other Insect-Borne Diseases section on the Florida Department of Health’s website.

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Duke Energy slammed by otherwise thankful DeBary Mayor Bob Garcia

DeBary Diner got a shout out for providing free meals to city workers during Hurricane Irma.  Walmart and Winn-Dixie were praised.

Walgreens got attaboys for filling prescriptions during the emergency. Gas stations received thanks for calling DeBary Mayor Bob Garcia about fuel shipments.

But Duke Energy got a failing grade from Garcia.

“I have issues with Duke Energy and how they went about it, ” Garcia said during Wednesday’s council meeting. “Yes, they need a lot of fixing. Yes, they need to turn around and hire more people.”

Florida Power & Light responded within 48 hours and had 98 percent of customers’ power restored after Hurricane Irma, Garcia said.

“Duke Energy took almost nine to 10 days before they turned around and addressed the issue of power in the city of DeBary,” Garcia said.

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Bears busy bulking up for winter, FWC says

Florida wildlife officers Wednesday confirmed what some DeBary residents already know: Bears are busier than normal these days. Bears are busy bulking up for winter, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. That means your garbage could become a furry intruder’s next meal.

Bears need to pound 20,000 calories a day to prepare for the season.

“As bears become more active in the fall, they take the path of least resistance to find food,” said Dave Telesco, who leads the FWC’s Bear Management Program. “This draws them into neighborhoods and areas with convenient food sources, which can be dangerous for people. While the FWC continues to work with local communities to reduce human-bear conflicts, it is important for Floridians to understand the steps they can take to keep themselves safe.”

The FWC on Wednesday also revealed a new public-service video. The search for food often leads bears across busy roads. The latest installment of the Living with Florida Black Bears reminds drivers to use caution while driving through areas prone to have bears.

“Bears are most active around dusk and dawn, and therefore most vehicle-bear collisions happen during these times of day,” a news release said.

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Hurricane Irma orphaned baby squirrels in DeBary, elsewhere

 

Lisa Kestory gave the furry critter a kiss.

“When God wants to remind humans what falling love feels like, He sends a baby squirrel,” Kestory said on Facebook today.

The squirrel rehabber at Ahopha Wildlife Rescue said 22 baby squirrels, as well as other displaced animals, are being cared for at the DeLeon Springs-based nonprofit owned by Tom Scotti.

SquirrelGirl, as Kestory is called, recently set up an account on GoFundme.com to help Ahopha Wildlife Rescue rescue squirrels and other animals displaced or injured by Hurricane Irma.

Most of the rescued animals are birds, including waterfowl and sandhill cranes, as well as “lots” of baby squirrels, she wrote.

“Donations are desperately needed for rescue supplies, pet formula, nipples and syringes, medical supplies, medical care and most importantly, FUEL for the Ahopha Wildlife Rescue vehicle to be able to get to the wildlife at rescue locations all over Central Florida, so they can be taken to the local rehabbers and Veterinarians for emergency care,” the GoFundme account says.
Baby squirrels were found across west Volusia after the storm.

On Sept. 11 , the day after Irma, Ej Bielen‎ posted this on the DeBary Proud! Facebook page:
“Found a baby squirrel in the Streets on naranja and Valencia. He’s still alive and has a small injury to his tail. We bandaged him up. He had a sibling next to him that unfortunately didn’t survive due to cars driving through. Luckily we found him before the next car did. He is very young and not moving too much but looks to be breathing normal. Eyes are still closed. If anyone has any tips on how to care for him or wants to help us out please provide guidance. Thank you.”

Kestory’s call for help prompted positive responses online.

Brandy Dantas of DeLand said this to Kestory on Facebook: “Do y’all need any blankets or supplies like that no extra money right now but can see what I have around the house to donate. Would love to help out any way I can Tom does amazing work and I have brought a few baby squirrels to him in the past.”

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‘This is the time to hunker down,’ Volusia manager says



Volusia County officials tonight urged residents to stay indoors as Hurricane Irma hammers Florida. A countywide curfew begins at 9 p.m. today and lasts until noon Monday.

“This is the time to hunker down,” said Volusia County Manager Jim Dinneen.

About 4,000 people are currently in emergency shelters in Volusia County. He said the most damaging winds are expected between 11 p.m. today through 10 a.m. Monday.  Gusts of 75 miles per hour are possible.

“We strongly advise that everyone stay inside and not go out in the storm,” Dinneen said. “The ground is saturated from the rain and power lines may be down.”

Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood said officers will use “discretion and common sense” while enforcing the curfew.

“Those who are evacuating, unavoidably traveling for work or who have an urgent need to travel in the area are free to do so if absolutely necessary.” a county news release said. “The intent of the curfew is to keep people safe, discourage loitering and prevent looting – which won’t be tolerated.”

Other updates from the county:

  • All bridges in Volusia County to the beachside are closed.
  • The north causeway in New Smyrna Beach and the Main Street Bridge in Daytona Beach have westbound lanes open for those who are leaving beachside.
  • Turnbull Bay Bridge in New Smyrna Beach and Highbridge in Ormond Beach are closed.

The number for the Citizens Information Center is 866-345-0345.

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Volusia’s sea-turtle nesting season by the numbers

The numbers are looking good for sea turtles on Volusia County beaches this year.

This is the peak nesting season and the indications are another record year is on tap.

Consider these tallies of the nests by species on Volusia beaches so far for 2017:
• 628 Loggerhead sea turtle nests
• 55 Green sea turtle nests
• 4 Kemp’s ridley sea turtle nests

The four Kemp’s ridley nests mark a record for the smallest and most endangered sea turtle.

There have been only nine other recorded Kemp’s ridley nests in
Volusia County since 1998:

  • Two in 1996
  • One in 1998
  • One in 2005
  • One in 2010
  • One in 2012
  • Two in 2014
  • One in 2016

Sea-turtle nesting continues through early September. Nest-hatching season follows in late September and into October.

“This is an extremely important time in the life of a sea turtle,” the county said in a news release this week. “This is when sea turtles emerge from their nests and the baby turtles will make an often-treacherous crawl to the ocean, dodging predators, holes, trash, vehicle ruts and beach furniture.”

If a turtle appears to be in immediate danger, notify a lifeguard or beach safety officer or call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at 888-404-3922.

For more information about Volusia County’s sea turtle program, call 386-238-4668 or visit www.volusiaseaturtles.org. For questions about outdoor-lighting restrictions, call 386-238-4773.