Category Archives: weather

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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DeBary, Florida faces cold front, thunderstorms today

 

 

 

 

Get ready for a messy commute home this afternoon.

A gigantic cold front will sweep through Central Florida between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. today, bringing thunderstorms and lightning. Twenty to 30-mph gusts are possible.

Saturday’s high will be in the 50s.

The front will drop temperatures into the mid-30s Saturday night into Sunday morning, according to the National Weather Service in Melbourne.

Saturday’s high will be 60.


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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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DeBary Christmas weather forecast: Glorious

Snow and rain are expected in parts of the northern U.S. on Christmas Day.

But the weather outlook for  DeBary and elsewhere in Florida can be summed up in one word: Glorious.

Monday’s high: 68

The River City will be mostly sunny, with a high near 68. Cooler weather will breeze in as the sun goes down.

Evening lows will dip to 51.

Today, Super Saturday shoppers will break a sweat as they brave the crowds for last-minute gifts and groceries. The high will be 82 degrees.

Christmas Eve high of 82 degrees

Fog and cooler weather return overnight Saturday into Sunday morning with a low of 61.

On Sunday, Christmas Eve,  the fog will burn off and 82-degree weather returns. Evening lows will be about 58 degrees.

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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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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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