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St. Pete City Councilmembers have suggestions on lessons learned from Irma

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and members of the City Council had plenty of laudatory praise Thursday for their staff in handling Hurricane Irma’s impact on the city.

The mayor even showed some love to Rick Scott.

However, some members of the board said it was crucial that to address concerns that they and their constituents are feeling right now in advance of when the next massive storm threatens the region.

Like power outages.

As of Thursday morning, tens of thousands of city residents were going on their fourth day without electricity, with temperatures now returning to the normal summer pattern of over 90 degrees during the daytime.

Councilman Steve Kornell said he’d like to see a process implemented where the council could work with Duke Energy on how they might be able to improve their response time in restoring city residents power after a major storm.

“How do we have that in a thoughtful, methodical, nonemotional but real way that’s going to be helpful” Kornell mused.

Duke spokesperson Peveeta Persaud has said that the energy giant begins restoring power after a storm to major infrastructure like hospitals, fire stations and 911 centers.

“It’s a very methodical approach,” echoed Fire Chief Jim Large, describing Duke’s initial damage assessment taken immediately after the storm hit. “I think one of the keys will be education for the public,” he added, before quickly asserting that he wasn’t speaking for Duke.

Kornell said it was essential to have that education process start as soon the local cleanup and recovery from Irma has ended, saying he’s hearing a lot from his constituents about Duke. “They do have a lot of questions about if new equipment was put in, we would not have had as much power outages. There’s a lot of that floating around.”

Kornell added that it would benefit the utility to have such conversations with some of the many neighborhood association groups around St. Pete, perhaps in the city’s eight separate city council districts.

Councilman Karl Nurse praised Duke workers, saying he saw them some of them cutting down trees that were blocking power lines early Monday morning in the immediate aftermath of the storm. But he worried about debris out in the streets, saying he’s seen stormwater gutters filled with small oak tree branches. “When we get a rain, people are going to get street flooding,” saying that “collectively” the public needs an education on how that is not how to handle their debris.

Nurse also criticized the placing of so many power lines next to trees, and said there also needed to more education with the public on preparing for the storm. “It occurred to me afterward why didn’t I eat the food that was in the refrigerator, and only that, while the refrigerator was on, and then eat the stuff that was in the cupboard,” eliciting laughs from some of his colleagues.

Councilman Ed Montanari expressed some frustration about a lack of reliable timely information from the emergency operations center, saying he was getting requests from neighborhood association presidents about such updates. Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin later told Montanari that he should subscribe to the city’s social media fees on Facebook and Twitter.

Meanwhile, the Pinellas County Commission extended the local state of emergency in the region that was originally called for last Thursday for another full week. The decision will keep Pinellas County’s emergency operations center active so it can continue supporting and coordinating disaster recovery efforts and get the area back to normal.

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Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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