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September 17, 2017

Clinton visits Miami-Dade shelter still housing Irma victims


The hundreds of Hurricane Irma refugees still living in the last remaining local emergency shelter got a surprise visit Sunday afternoon from a high-profile guest: former President Bill Clinton.

Clinton dropped in on the shelter at the Miami-Dade County Fair and Exhibition fairgrounds at Tamiami Park, a source familiar with the trip told the Miami Herald. Some 700 evacuees from the Miami area and the Florida Keys were living in the shelter as of Sunday morning, down from about 900 on Saturday night.

Clinton’s visit, which was closed to news reporters, was organized after the former president inquired about how he might say hello to Irma victims. Guiding Clinton through the shelter was Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez.

The county moved evacuees into the fairgrounds after shutting down the other 41 shelters opened ahead of the storm. They were then joined by Keys evacuees, who had previously been housed next door at Florida International University. Monroe County started allowing Lower Keys residents to return home Saturday.

More here.

Photo credit: Matias J. Ocner, Miami Herald staff

September 15, 2017

Scott picks Ritch Workman over Ron Brisé for PSC post

BrisePageGov. Rick Scott rejected the re-appointment of Ron Brisé, a former Democratic legislator from North Miami, to a third term on the state’s powerful Public Service Commission Friday, replacing him with a former lawmaker from Melbourne.

Scott named David “Ritch” Workman, 44, a former state legislator who how serves as the director of business development at Keiser University, to the utility board, replacing Brisé, a former telecommunications consultant.

The appointment was one of three made by Scott to the five-member utility board that oversees regulation of the state’s electric, water and sewer industries.

Workman has worked as an Uber driver, served in the Florida Army National Guard, and received his bachelor’s degree from Appalachian State University. He has no utility industry experience. His term will expire Jan. 1, 2022.

Brisé, 44, had been a telecommunications consultant before he was first appointed to the Public Service Commission in 2010 by former Gov. Charlie Crist. He had been reappointed to the four-year term by Scott and was seeking a third term. When he represented North Miami, Brisé had been an outspoken critic of Florida Power & Light’s high voltage transmission lines and sought to give the community more input in the process.

Scott reappointed Art Graham, 53, of Jacksonville Beach, who was also first appointed by Crist in 2010. He has previously served as a city councilman for the City of Jacksonville Beach. His term also ends Jan. 1, 2022.

Scott also appointed Gary Clark, 49, of Chipley, to the shortest term on the commission. Clark, the deputy secretary of Land and Recreation at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, will fill the seat vacated by Jimmy Patronis. The former Panama City legislator left the commission when Scott named him to be the state’s chief financial officer.

Clark received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Phoenix. His term began Friday and will extend through Jan. 1, 2019.


Marathon residents could be able to return by Sunday

Marathon homes Raedle
@PatriciaMazzei @HowardCohen @lesleyclark @DavidGoodhue

MARATHON -- Residents of the Florida Keys may be allowed in as far as Marathon as early as Saturday and at the latest by Sunday, Monroe County leaders said Friday, urging patience as they described in greater detail than ever before some of the widespread, systemic damage caused by Hurricane Irma.

There is no estimate yet for when people who live in the hardest-hit Lower Keys might be allowed to return. Key West has already had some electric and water service restored; the problem is getting there without interrupting the work that is being done to help the islands that took the brunt of the Category 4 storm and lack full power, water or sewer services.

When might Lower Keys residents get the OK to drive back down?

“I’m going to stick my neck out,” Monroe County Administrator Roman Gastesi estimated, “and say that, at the rate we’re going, probably another week or so.”

Residents, who have sought all week to get home, might have finally resigned themselves. At 4 p.m. Friday, no cars were in line at the Mile Marker 74 checkpoint where a day earlier frustrated drivers pleaded with state troopers to let them through. 

Conditions have undeniably improved over the last few days. Cell phone service, while still spotty, now extends more deeply into the Keys. More places have power. Utility and debris pickup crews dot U.S. 1, including a team working Friday from a small boat.

What emergency managers most fear: that the early recovery will be overwhelmed once people start returning to the 110-mile island chain en masse. Only about 10 percent of Lower Keys residents stayed through the storm, estimated Marty Senterfitt, the county’s emergency director.

“Our system is very fragile right now, and if we open the gates, it collapses,” he said. “You’re going to see the crisis escalate again.”

More here.

Photo credit: Joe Raedle, Getty Images

No decision yet on which traditional public schools will get 'Schools of Hope' aid

Johnson and stewart


Some of Florida’s lowest-performing traditional public schools will have to wait a bit longer to find out if they’ll be among the 25 schools that will get financial help through a new state program called “Schools of Hope.”

The State Board of Education was supposed to meet in Tallahassee on Wednesday to select the recipients out of the 57 eligible schools that applied.

But, like so much else in Florida this week, Hurricane Irma derailed those plans.

The board met instead by conference call on Wednesday, and it left a decision on the “Hope” schools for another day.

More here.

Photo credit: Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart, left, and State Board of Education Chairwoman Marva Johnson listen during a May 2017 meeting of the state board. [Florida Channel]

Irma aftermath: Has Florida's development growth made it harder to evacuate?

Irma traffic 2

via @NickNehamas

Hurricane Irma mercifully weakened before it swept much of Florida with hurricane-force gusts. But the gridlocked madhouse caused by the largest evacuation in Florida’s history shows just how vulnerable runaway development has made one of the nation’s fastest-growing states, emergency planners say.

“We have to stop and take a deep breath and ask, ‘What are we doing?’ ” said David Paulison, a former Miami-Dade County fire chief who led the Federal Emergency Management Agency under President George W. Bush. “The more people we put here, the worse it’s going to be for evacuation.”

Irma could have been Florida’s worst nightmare: A massive Category 5 hurricane wide enough to hit both of the state’s densely populated coasts, where growth has boomed despite the obvious risks of living on the water in an area regularly walloped by storms. The push for more development — one of Gov. Rick Scott’s central policies in his successful effort to revive Florida’s economy — is elevating the risks to both people and property, said Craig Fugate, FEMA chief under President Barack Obama and the state’s emergency management director under Gov. Jeb Bush.

“We’re trying to evacuate more people over the same infrastructure,” Fugate said. “It’s something Florida has to revisit.”

More here.

Trump: 'I never even knew a Category 5 existed'

Trump (21)

Hours after visiting neighborhoods torn by Hurricane Irma on Thursday, President Donald Trump said he was unaware how strong storms could get.

“I never even knew a Category 5 existed,” he said Thursday night at the White House Historical Association reception.

The president sounded awed by the one-two punch of hurricanes Harvey and Irma landing over the past three weeks in Texas and Florida.

“Some of you are from Texas and some of you are from Florida,” he said. “And you both got hit. In Texas you got hit with the largest amount of water anybody has ever seen. I guess the largest ever recorded. And in Florida you got hit with the strongest winds ever recorded. It actually hit the Keys with a — it was a Category 5. I never even knew a Category 5 existed. And they suffered greatly.”

Trump continued to praise government responders who have had to deal with two disasters at once.

More here.

Photo credit: Manuel Balce Ceneta, Associated Press

September 14, 2017

'We've had bigger storms than this,' Trump says on Irma and climate change

Trump (19)

A visit Thursday to parts of Southwest Florida flooded and windswept by Hurricane Irma — his third trip in less than three weeks to a storm disaster zone — did nothing to rid President Donald Trump of his climate-change skepticism.

“We’ve had bigger storms than this,” Trump said aboard Air Force One after departing Fort Myers. “We did have two horrific storms, epic storms. But if you go back into the ’30s and ’40s, and you go back to the ’teens, you’ll see storms that were very similar and even bigger.”

In fact, the most powerful storm on record to ever hit Florida was in 1935. And, as Floridians can attest, the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons, when eight storms landed in the state, were busier than 2017 has been so far.

However, some scientists have found that the effects of global warming — namely warmer oceans and hotter air — can intensify hurricane formation and result in higher rainfall, though just how much those factors might affect the storms remains uncertain. Higher sea levels can contribute to more devastating storm surge.

That Irma followed Hurricane Harvey, while hurricanes Katia and Jose circled in the Gulf of Mexico and in the Atlantic Ocean, only renewed public-policy debates over whether combating climate change might prevent massive, dangerous storms. 

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, like Trump a Republican who generally avoids even the term “climate change,” told reporters after surveying storm damage in the Keys on Wednesday, “we clearly have things we have to improve” regarding the environment, acknowledging flooding and beach renourishment concerns.

“Clearly the environment changes all the time, and whether that’s cycles we’re going through or whether that’s man-made, I couldn’t tell you which one it is,” he said. “But I can tell you this: We ought to solve problems.”

More here.

Photo credit: Evan Vucci, Associated Press

Miami Republican demands straight answer from Trump on Dreamers

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen


Donald Trump was striking a deal over dinner with Democrats on Wednesday night to save Dreamers from deportation. By Thursday morning, his aides were playing catch up and insisting nothing changed in his position on immigration or border security.

Now, as confusion reigns over Trump’s true intentions for dealing with 800,000 people affected by a now-canceled Obama-era order that allowed them to live and work in the United States, one senior Republican lawmaker wants the White House to come clean.

“It is unfortunate that the President continues to play coy with young people who benefit our American society instead of being serious and straightforward about an important policy that will impact the lives of nearly 800,000 DREAMers,” said Miami Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in a statement provided to Miami Herald.

Ros-Lehtinen, the most senior Republican from Florida and a co-sponsor of a bill called the Dream Act that gives these young people a path to citizenship, was unable to be in Washington for congressional business this week, as her district continues to recover from Hurricane Irma.

“We hear reports that he is working on a deal that would help DREAMers, but he flatly denies such a deal,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “Instead of changing with the prevailing wind, the President must be clear about his intentions. If he is interested in protecting DREAMers, he must cut out the rhetoric of trying to please all sides and, instead, put forth clear guidance on what legislative language he is willing to accept or reject on protecting Dreamers.”
As Trump looks increasingly willing to buck his far-right base to score some legislative victories — first on the nation’s borrowing limit and now on border security and the immigration policy known as DACA — three Miami-based Republicans find themselves in a new and potentially influential role as center-right lawmakers able to form a coalition with Democrats. Including Ros-Lehtinen, Mario Diaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo have something to gain from Trump’s dealmaking with Democrats.
Read more here.

Trump to visit Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands to view Irma recovery



Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said Thursday that President Donald Trump will visit Puerto Rico along with the U.S. Virgin Islands to view Hurricane Irma relief efforts in the territories first hand.

Details of Trump’s trip are forthcoming, Rosselló said.

The governor also said that Puerto Rico will host about 3,000 victims of Irma from the U.S. Virgin Islands and other Caribbean countries that suffered a direct hit from what was then a e Category 5 storm.

“We have been working to ensure that other U.S. citizens in the Virgin Islands and elsewhere can have safe passage, have shelter in Puerto Rico and restart their rebuilding process,” Rosselló said.
Over 500,000 people lost power in Puerto Rico, which avoided a direct hit from Hurricane Irma after the storm tracked just north of the island. But hurricane force winds in some places reached 100 miles per hour, causing a crumbling power grid to falter, and officials warned it could take months to fully restore power in parts of the island. 

Rosselló said Thursday that power has been restored to more than 90 percent of Puerto Rico after 75 percent of the island lost power when Irma passed just north of San Juan on Sept. 6. He’s been in regular communication with the White House over the past week and said that White House officials have pledged to support Puerto Rico’s needs. Puerto Rico sustained an estimated $1 billion in damage from Irma, up from an initial estimate of $600 million.

That damage will play a role when Congress discusses an Irma relief package, which will cost billions of dollars after Irma moved through the Keys and along Florida’s Gulf Coast.

“We will start making the proper arrangements so that we can mitigate future impacts,” Rosselló said, adding that he has talked with Trump, Speaker Paul Ryan and other leaders in Congress about Puerto Rico’s needs. “Some of these infrastructures were designed for 155mph winds, they don’t do that anymore so we really need to make sure that whatever efforts and whatever funding we’re getting we can to mitigate in the future.”

Rosselló was in Washington on Thursday with Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González and a host of other current and former senior officials from the territory. Their message, in addition to making sure that Puerto Rico gets enough federal help after Irma, is that Congress must act to ensure that the territory’s health care system remains solvent and that the territory must be included if Congress passes an overhaul of the nation’s tax system.

Read more here.

UPDATE: Governor rejects attempt to postpone Miami special election, early voting starts Saturday

Gov. Rick Scott has rejected a Democratic Party of Florida request to postpone for two weeks the Sept. 26 special election in Senate District 40, saying Miami-Dade County officials are ready to move forward with early voting on Saturday despite the disruption from the storm.

“Elections headquarters is fine and with power. Staff was back to work yesterday. The post office was operational as of yesterday, so ballots are coming in/out,” Miami-Dade Supervisor of Elections Christina White wrote in an email to the Florida Department of State on Wednesday. “I confirmed that all three early voting sites are fine and have power. It starts Saturday.”

In a letter to Scott, a Republican, Florida Democratic Party Chairman Stephen Bittel urged the governor to postpone the election between Democrat Annette Taddeo and Republican former state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz for two weeks until power is fully restored and people can get their lives back together. Story here. 

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