Almost two weeks after Hurricane Ian, Charlotte County is nearing the end of its emergency response phase, according to Patrick Fuller, the county’s director of emergency management.
After the storm, the county had a team of people reporting to work immediately to begin the push process. A map has been distributed.
Within 36 hours, the first push road, a major infrastructure road to get people to hospitals and ambulance aisles, was removed. On his seventh day of response, all areas on the map were cleared.
“In my experience of working here for 34 years, this was an insane timeframe in which we were able to open a push,” said public works director John Elias. “The first short-term issue we have to do is push. They are mobilizing for debris removal while the push is going on.”
The County is in the process of clearing debris, and there are four temporary storm debris dump sites for residents at Placida West Boat Ramp at 12560 Placida Road. Florida Street, South County Area, 7000 Florida St., Punta Gorda. Mid-County Mini Transfer and Recycling Facility, 19765 Kenilworth Blvd. in Port Charlotte. and West Charlotte Mini-Transfer & Recycling Facility, 7070 Environmental Way in Englewood.
All four locations are open daily from 8am to 6pm and accept white goods, storm-related garden or vegetation debris, and construction and demolition debris from residential areas. Due to limited movement space, residents are requested to bring a trailer no longer than 12 feet in length.
For residents who cannot bring their debris to a site to unload it, the county is currently exploring options to assist with debris removal on private property.
County monitoring firms AshBritt and Tetra Tech expect at least 2 million cubic yards of storm debris.
As of Tuesday morning, the county has 118 traffic lights, 17 of which are still closed. “A lot of these things that are working will come back,” Elias said. “Anything that is not in operation will need a complete overhaul.”
The county also has 80,000 signs scheduled for replacement or repair, many of which are stop signs.
As far as electricity goes, Florida Power and Light shows the county is at 99% and the Lee County Electric Cooperative has about 25 accounts that have not been restored as of Tuesday morning.
Power was restored to the county’s retail sector. That means most of the county’s grocery stores and restaurants are now open and have potable water.
The county’s water system is returning to normal operations as the last boiling water notice in the county was lifted on Monday. However, the county is still addressing some minor leaks in the system.
The drainage system is almost back to normal and 17 of the 315 lift stations are running on generator power.
The county also partners with other agencies to assess potential short-term impacts, such as bacterial levels, and nutrient runoff, organic matter, and dissolved oxygen impacts in harbors, Lemon Bay, and upper reaches of Charlotte County. Identifies long-term concerns.
As for bacteria, levels pose no concern, except for the part of Charlotte Harbor where Alligator Creek comes south of Punta Gorda.
Bacteria levels are off the charts at Lemon Bay and Tom Adams Bridge, as well as areas where Rocky Creek, Oyster Creek, and Back Creek enter.
“We try to minimize direct interaction with the water,” said Brandon Moody, water quality manager. Until we have more data, please refrain from swimming or anything like that.”
As for the numbers, Moody said the results in some of these areas were too numerous to count, meaning there were so many colonies of bacteria that he couldn’t even provide a count.
Oxygen levels are normal in the main part of the harbor and throughout Lemon Bay, but it is expected that levels will change as organic matter begins to decompose, eventually leading to lower oxygen levels.
The Peace and Myakka rivers already have very low oxygen levels from top to bottom, which is expected to put stress on fish populations in the area.
“This is what we are really concerned about right now,” Moody said. “We’re just seeing what happens to fish populations in these areas and whether those hypoxic conditions are widespread enough to harbor and pose a risk to fish communities in those areas.”
As of Tuesday, all emergency rooms in Charlotte County were open, and on Monday, a few smaller inpatients, including some operating rooms, interventional radiology, cath labs, and endoscopy capabilities. Functionality is expected.