Category Archives: hurricane

Stephen Bacon’s beef with Irma bills called ‘bunk’

Interim City Manager Ron McLemore defended himself and city staffers after Stephen Bacon alleged costly bungling of rapid-cleanup contracts approved after Hurricane Irma.

The City Council member on Wednesday questioned debris-removal deals negotiated under emergency conditions and approved unanimously by the City Council to protect the public days after the storm ripped across Florida in September.

Ron McLemore
Ron McLemore

“That is such a pile of bunk that I don’t even want to answer you,” McLemore told Bacon.

Mayor Bob Garcia defended McLemore, saying Bacon’s recollection of what happened “is not actually correct.”

Other council members remained silent during the heated exchange between Bacon and McLemore.

Wednesday’s showdown marked the lasted flashpoint between Bacon and his colleagues.

Stephen Bacon
Stephen Bacon

Contractor shortage

Contractors were hard to find in Florida after Irma’s passage. Hurricane Harvey’s damage to Texas ramped up demand.

On Sept. 20, as limbs piled high along DeBary roadways, McLemore offered options for City Council members for the express-debris removal they wanted.

Bacon and the other council members picked the most expensive option – estimated to cost $540,000 – to hire two contractors – Waste Pro and DRC.

DRC got a standard rate negotiated a year before the storm of  $7.62 per cubic yard for removal of debris on public roads.

After the storm, as contractors ran to south Florida for higher rates, Waste Pro negotiated a $15.78 cubic yard rate for pickup on private roads.

Storms pinch budget

Initially, the city estimated it would cost $540,000 for all debris pickup. That amount nearly tripled to $1.5 million because Irma downed more trees and limbs than expected.

City officials are trying to get funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for Irma and Hurricane Matthew in 2016 for that could take months or longer.

Those two storms combined cost DeBary taxpayers $1.8 million over two budget years, putting pressure on city finances.

If the hurricanes had not happened, the city’s 2017 general fund would have closed with a $562,000 positive cash flow.

Instead, it had a negative balance of $75,000.  Reserves were used to balance the budget.

Bacon blasts costs

As far as costs for Irma, city staffers are still examining the bills and may have a full accounting of the expenditures within the next two weeks.

Bacon said he’s upset because Waste Pro hired a subcontractor and made more than he expected from the city. He thought Waste Pro would make 40 percent of the contract.

Stephen Bacon
Stephen Bacon

The remaining 60 percent, he thought, would go to the cheaper contractor.

“But in actuality, it turned around,” Bacon said. “No one expected that they would find a contractor. Why didn’t we find a contractor that would work for a lower price?”

Bidding wars


McLemore reminded Bacon that he, along with other council members, approved the contracts, the city was facing an emergency and contractors were hard to find as two states cleaned up from separate hurricanes.

Then Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico.

There were reports of bidding wars with contractors leaving unfinished jobs to get better-paying ones elsewhere.

Bob Garcia
Bob Garcia

In the situation we were backed up into at that particular time, we couldn’t get people to turn around and come to the city of DeBary on our original agreement. And it had to do with the federal government saying that they could charge the additional money,” Garcia said. “We were the first city to have everything picked up and cleaned up so we did a very very good job as far as that’s concerned.”

‘Premium’ on public safety

Local governments across Florida experienced problems with a shortage of contractors and equipment after Irma.

It hit just two weeks after Harvey slammed Texas.

“You put a premium, this council put a premium, and I agree with you, to get this place cleaned up as quick as possible for public safety,” McLemore said. “We did it. We did in a great way. And we were one of the first to get cleaned up when other people were still trying to get trucks.”

McLemore said Bacon’s concern that the Waste Pro subcontractor didn’t have a performance bond with the city is unfounded. That sub was covered by Waste Pro’s bond and insurance. “This is just a bunch of misinformation and I resent the fact that it’s put out here,” McLemore said.

‘That’s legitimate’

He said he hasn’t been able to provide a  full accounting of all the costs because staffers are finding mistakes on the bills and sending them back to the contractors.

After the charges are checked out, McLemore will make a presentation about the costs to the City Council.

“We have sent these bills back to the company telling them they are incorrect because we are performing the pre-auditing function you should know all about,” McLemore told Bacon, an accountant.

Bacon’s response: “That’s legitimate.”

“Of course it is,” McLemore replied. “Your staff doesn’t sit around twiddling their fingers trying to find something to do. They’re doing what they’re supposed to do, and what they know to do and they’re doing it quite well.”

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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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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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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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DeBary Hurricane Irma debris cleanup at halfway point

Roughly half of the debris from Hurricane Irma has been picked up since the storm hit Florida, DeBary City Council members learned Wednesday.

City contractors have cleared about 30,000 cubic yards of debris — about twice as much as originally expected for the entire job,  Alan Williamson, the city’s director of public works, told city council members.

The debris pickup is expected to continue for another two weeks.

Williamson said the cleanup will cost more than originally expected, though how much more wasn’t immediately clear.

Two weeks ago, the City Council approved a rapid-pickup plan for $540,000, hiring two contractors – Waste Pro and DRC – to pick up from public roads,  as well as from private roads in gated subdivisions.

That plan was approved when the city estimated it had about 15,000 cubic yards to pick up.

The council praised Williamson and other staffers for their hard work before, during and after the storm.

Williamson said the city provided more than 8,000 sandbags to residents before the storm.

Nearly 30 large trees fell and were removed by staffers during Irma, Williamson noted.

He said nearly 12 inches of rain fell during Irma and no homes flooded.

Homes in the River City flooded in 2004 and 2008.

Since then, the city installed $30 million worth of stormwater upgrades.

“Zero flooding, Mr. McLemore,” an appreciative Mayor Bob Garcia told interim City Manager Ron McLemore. “Zero flooding. The system worked.”

Tropical Storm Fay in 2008 dumped close to 24 inches of rain in 24 hours on parts of West Volusia in 2008, overflowing lakes, putting streets underwater and flooding 130 homes in DeBary.

City staffers pledged to try for reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for costs associated with Hurricane Irma debris removal.

FEMA already owes DeBary nearly $400,000 for Hurricane Matthew, which hit Central Florida a year ago.

In other actions Wednesday:

The DeBary City Council gave initial approval to a zoning change for an assisted-living facility.

The 40-foot, three-story Canterwood Manor Assisted Living Facility is planned on nearly 8 acres northeast of U.S. Highway 17-92 and Dirksen Drive.

The 120-bed facility will replace two existing single-family rental homes on property owned by Charles and Saundra Grey of DeBary.

Council members also gave second approval to a 289-unit apartment complex planned on the other side of Dirksen Drive.

Construction on Hawthorne Landing could begin in spring 2018 with completion set for summer 2019.

Hawthorne Landing (also called Integra 289 Exchange) is planned on 16 acres southeast of U.S. Highway 17-92 and Dirksen Drive on land commonly known as the Costa property.

DeBary OK’s $540K for rapid Hurricane Irma cleanup

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that a $400,000 debris cleanup option would exclude certain roads.

DeBary’s cleanup from Hurricane Irma will get underway today after City Council members approved a rapid-pickup plan for $540,000.

The plan, approved by a unanimous vote, authorizes two contractors –Waste Pro and DRC –to pick up from public roads,  as well as from private roads in gated subdivisions.

“First and foremost,  our job is to secure the health, safety, and welfare of our citizens. That’s our job,” said Vice Mayor Lita Handy- Peters.

Interim City Manager Ron McLemore offered two options for City Council members.

City Council member Stephen Bacon voiced support for a less expensive plan estimated to cost $400,000. But that would take longer to complete.

Handy- Peters said the more expensive option was a “no brainer” because it would remove the potential public safety threat of brush piles faster and more comprehensively.

“You get it done and you get it done quickly and then you figure out how to make it work,” she said.

City staffers pledged to try for reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. But since FEMA already owes DeBary nearly $400,000 for Hurricane Matthew, there isn’t much hope that DeBary will get back its costs for that storm.

Still, McLemore said they would try.

Check out the city’s storm-debris guidelines here.

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Hurricane Irma cleanup inspired by Charles Richard Beall

You don’t need to bring gloves or any equipment.

Just show up at 8 a.m. Saturday in the Winn-Dixie parking lot, preferably wearing patriotic-themed clothing,  and prepare for hard work in honor of a local hero.

Hurricane Irma downed trees at a property occupied by the mother of Vietnam War hero Charles Richard Beall. U.S. Highway 17-92 is named in his honor.

Now his mom, 88-year-old Arbutus Beall, and her family need help, according to community activist Bret Douglas, a volunteer who runs the DeBary Legacy page on Facebook.

The DeBary businessman is asking for volunteers to help clear downed trees from her property on Monroe Avenue.

Douglas, a Gulf War-area veteran and horticulturalist, wants the cleanup to be a celebration of  Charles Richard Beall’s life.

Beall was 20 when he was fatally wounded on March 6, 1968 while storming enemy bunkers during the Viet Cong Tet Offensive.

He attacked as snipers shot at an army convoy.

As his platoon tried to rescue the convoy, Beall “rushed the bunkers, one by one, firing into them. Three bunkers were destroyed. He was killed attacking the fourth,” the Orlando Sentinel said in 1996.

That was the year U.S. 17-92 in DeBary was renamed in his honor.

A Beall relative recently reached out to Douglas for help after Irma stormed across Florida.

“I think this is worse than Matthew,” he said, referring to a powerful hurricane in October 2016. Then, as now, the burly man muscled into action.

Douglas, who owns a DeBary landscaping firm called Ironclad Landscape Management, has been highlighted on social media for working hard to help those who need it the most.

The 50-year-old volunteers in DeBary by removing trees, trimming limbs and fixing fences. He said he focuses on helping the elderly, disabled and low-income residents.

Douglas is also building a local ministry with a food bank for the needy.

He says he gets about five to six calls per week from people who need help.

“We answer them all,” Douglas said.

Anyone who wants to help Douglas clean up Arbutus Beall’s property should show up at 8 a.m. in the parking lot of Winn-Dixie at 2 N. Charles R. Beall Blvd.

Douglas will lead volunteers in a prayer and provide directions to the Beall home. He’ll also provide drinks and food. And gloves.

“Just show up,” he added.

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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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DeBary mayor: ‘Keep your fingers crossed!’

Mayor Bob Garcia this morning expressed optimism about electricity restoration for still-powerless neighborhoods in DeBary.

Electricity has slowly been returning to DeBary homes and businesses after Hurricane Irma downed power lines and caused other problems with distribution networks Sunday.

“I believe that based on what I see the [equipment] and supplies are coming into DeBary,” Garica said online Saturday. “Keep your fingers crossed!”

The message was posted on Facebook’s DeBary Proud! page by DeBary resident Diane M Van Auken on behalf of Garcia, who is “not on social media,” the post said.

“The power company is working hard to get All the power restored in DeBary,” said Garcia. His update also said:

  • Traders Cove has power
  • Highland Marina has partial power restored and is waiting for transformers and tree removal
  • Linemen in Terra Alta are also waiting for tree removal and transformers

“The Vistas area (where Mayor Garcia & his family live) were hit hard and are still without power,” he wrote. “There are many problems there that are being worked on before the power can be restored.”

He said it is possible homes in the Valencia Circle area may get power by tonight or no later than Sunday.

Duke Energy says it has 81,055 Volusia customers. Of those, 65,438 had power restored and 6,126 remained without electricity as of 4 p.m. Saturday. Power restoration was estimated by midnight Sunday.

Florida Power and Light said 20,670 of its 176,800 customers in Volusia County are without power as of Saturday.

According to Florida’s Department of Emergency Management:

Duke Energy had more than 1.3 million customers affected by Irma. Power has already been restored to more than 1.1 million customers.

  • Duke Energy expects power restoration to be completed for western service areas the night of Friday, Sept. 15.
  • Duke Energy expects power restoration to be completed for central and northern service areas the night of Sunday, Sept. 17.

Florida Power and Light had 4.4 million customers affected by the storm. Power has already been restored to more than 3.4 million customers.

  • FPL expects power restoration to be completed for the East Coast the night of Sunday, Sept. 17.
  • FPL expects power restoration to be completed for the West Coast by Friday, Sept. 22.

This isn’t the first time Garcia was featured on social media because of the storm.

On Saturday, as the storm approached, a Facebook user posted video of Garcia urging residents to volunteer for cleanup and repairs after Irma passed.

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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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