St. Pete Beach Mayor Alan Johnson says he runs or rides his bike every morning. After Hurricane Irma passed through Monday, September 11, Johnson took his morning workout on the road by riding his bike around the island to check on damage resulting from the storm.
“It’s easier to see the exact situation on a bicycle than in a car,” said Johnson. “It was a way to get my exercise and check on problems such as power outages.”
According to Johnson, there were many pockets of places without power and a few downed transformers, including one at Belle Vista that was replaced on Sunday. Also by Sunday, all residents had their power restored.
“As far as I know, everything’s back,” said Johnson, who spent Tuesday morning, September 19 riding his bicycle around the island, doing another check.
Riding around St. Pete Beach also gave Johnson a chance to talk with out-of-town crews who were working to restore power to residents.
“I talked to crews from as far away as Canada and Missouri who were working to restore our power,” said Johnson. “I also had a chance to talk to residents about their concerns. If I saw someone outside, I stopped and talked to them.”
A lot of preparation for the impending storm, as well as good communication, was helpful. Johnson said the city had to move their web servers off the island, which created a different IP address, causing the city’s website to be offline for a time. By the time they got the new IP addresses up and working, the servers were able to be moved back.
Representative Kathleen Peters was in constant communication with Johnson, particularly during the transformer problem at Belle Isle. Johnson got a call from the governor’s office the day before the storm with a number to call if the city needed anything.
“I thought, ‘I’ll never use that number,’” said Johnson but did wind up using it. “We used all the pressure we could to get people back up.”
Since the island was evacuated, including more than 20 firefighters once the winds escalated, city staff operated their EOC at the Pasadena Community Church, which was where they weathered the storm. Since the city of St. Pete Beach declared a state of emergency, they expect to have expenses reimbursed by FEMA, said Johnson.
“We weathered the storm pretty well,” said Johnson. “We didn’t have the storm surge that was expected. The only major structural damage I heard of was that Howard Johnson’s on Gulf Boulevard lost part of their roof.”
Johnson spoke with City Manager Wayne Saunders about having a series of “lessons learned” workshops with the city, the county and the sheriff’s department. After those meetings are completed, he would like to have a town hall meeting with the entire city commission so residents are involved and kept well informed.
“Our St. Pete Beach District 2 was hit with loss of power, downed trees and our Upham Beach Honor Walk lost three flag poles. We can never become complacent in paradise,” said District 2 City Commissioner Rick Falkenstein, “and we need to have a plan and evacuate. City Manager Wayne Saunders did an excellent job keeping our residents informed through spbconnect. God Bless all our first responders and the men and women who came from all over America to help restore power to the cities of Florida.”
Johnson encourages residents to sign up for the email distribution list and download the city app. The city has also added more information to the homepage of its website.
“We weathered the storm pretty well,” said Johnson. “We learned a lot, but we can always improve.”