Irma Aftermath Meeting at Rum 138 Allows Public to Meet Officials

irmajane crowd In: Irma Aftermath Meeting at Rum 138 Allows Public to Meet Officials | Our Santa Fe River, Inc. | Protecting the Santa Fe River in North Florida
Jane Blais, who suffered catastrophic losses, explains how emergency services were woefully inadequate.

On  October 4, 2017, a meeting took place at Rum 138, hosted and organized by Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson, OSFR advisor.  The purpose of the meeting was to bring together and open channels of communication between service agencies and the public who has and still is suffering from the aftermath of hurricane Irma.

Irmammj In: Irma Aftermath Meeting at Rum 138 Allows Public to Meet Officials | Our Santa Fe River, Inc. | Protecting the Santa Fe River in North Florida
Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson, meeting organizer and emcee, and Doug Jipson, Rum138, who provided meeting venue.

Principal participants were representatives from the Suwannee River Water Management District (SRWMD), who fielded most of the questions and provided  the most help to those seeking answers.  These included Katelyn Potter, Communications Director, Tom Sagul, Resource Management (permitting,) and Tom Mirti, Division Director of Water Resources, who did most of the work.

irmamirti In: Irma Aftermath Meeting at Rum 138 Allows Public to Meet Officials | Our Santa Fe River, Inc. | Protecting the Santa Fe River in North Florida
Tom Mirti of SRWMD patiently and thoroughly provided answers to the many questions. After the meeting he also met with individuals to address their specific cases.

Other agency representatives were present from Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the Florida Wildlife Commission and Shayne Morgan, Columbia County Emergency Management Director.  Notably absent were any Columbia County Commissioners.

Several emotional citizens voiced their disappointment with public agencies in that they were unable to communicate their problems and they felt abandoned.  Several were still landlocked and unable to drive from their homes, some of which were still flooded.  Some claimed that the various agencies passed them off to other organizations and would not listen seriously to their messages.

One recurring complaint was that there is no monitoring area between Fort White and Worthington Springs, which leaves a large area without coverage.  This was one of the hardest hit locations with record-breaking high water.  Residents also expressed disappointment saying weather experts underestimated the height of floodwaters and gave them little to no warning ahead of time.

irmasagul In: Irma Aftermath Meeting at Rum 138 Allows Public to Meet Officials | Our Santa Fe River, Inc. | Protecting the Santa Fe River in North Florida
Tim Sagul of SRWMD

Others complained that the very agencies designated for flooding situations were closed from Friday before the hurricane until the following Wednesday, the period when most needed.  Other agencies actually impeded residents working to help—Current Problems undertook a cleanup at Rum Island, but found the gates locked preventing them from transporting the large amounts of trash collected.  The county also did not remove the Porta Potties and trash receptacles in order to prevent contamination of flood waters.

Columbia County received by far the most complaints, and the lone representative, Shayne Morgan, Emergency Management Director, was the target hardest hit by angry citizens.  District commissioners were invited to this event but chose to remain away.

Katelyn Potter
Katelyn Potter, SRWMD
irmamorgan In: Irma Aftermath Meeting at Rum 138 Allows Public to Meet Officials | Our Santa Fe River, Inc. | Protecting the Santa Fe River in North Florida
Shayne Morgan, Columbia Co. Emergency Management Director

This meeting was the first opportunity for many to have a face-to-face meeting with elected officials charged with meeting the emergency needs of citizens during a disaster.  OSFR commends those officials who traveled long distances after work hours to be present.  The meeting was purposely ended by 8 o’clock to give time for those interested to sit down with agency representatives to discuss their personal situation.

Commendations are also due Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson for single-handedly organizing  and hosting this opportunity for much-needed communication between the public and government agencies.  The meeting was very timely due to the circumstances that the storm effects are still being felt and have not been resolved.  Thanks also go to Doug and Merrillee Malwitz- Jipson of Rum 138 for making available their facilities for the meeting.

Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
-A river is like a life: once taken, it cannot be brought back-


 

 

3 Comments

  1. We have comments/answers posted on the FB event page.
    https://www.facebook.com/events/276360676202982/?acontext=%7B%22source%22%3A108%2C%22action_history%22%3A%22%5B%7B%5C%22surface%5C%22%3A%5C%22post_page%5C%22%2C%5C%22mechanism%5C%22%3A%5C%22surface%5C%22%2C%5C%22extra_data%5C%22%3A%5B%5D%7D%5D%22%2C%22has_source%22%3Atrue%7D&source=108&action_history=%5B%7B%22surface%22%3A%22post_page%22%2C%22mechanism%22%3A%22surface%22%2C%22extra_data%22%3A%5B%5D%7D%5D&has_source=1&hc_ref=ARSYr0EQxNkizScEdp7gybSxnABMIeKyg4uX-G2_wP2GfHaI3Gp1pdqi-0IRLGOWWKU

    There was a good discussion about a new gauge monitoring station that is part of the weather service monitoring, suggested by Tom Mirti from SRWMD and doable, but needs public participation.
    This is how Fort White became the gauge the weather agencies discuss when they talk about Santa Fe River flooding. Right now the reports talk about Fort White and Worthington Springs.

    There needs to be I-75 and Santa Fe River or the O’leno gauge.

    The Land Bridge needs to be included in news about flooding. The Land Bridge needs some PR to tell people what and where it is too.

    Also if an agency is shut down or after hours and weekends, have a emergency contact phone number on the answering machine during potential water related emergency events.

    And, Columbia County is asleep at the helm. They need to be more responsive to the public during flooding.
    And they need to track every phone call and the concern that comes in no matter if they are a private road or not. If you live on a private road, we found out they do not even log your phone call if you call about flooding.

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