Services District: Community better prepared as hurricane season nears

The North Atlantic hurricane season starts on June 1. Dennis Pickle, manager of the St. Lucie West Services District, said improvements are online to help the community dry out and bounce back quicker than ever.

“We did the 6B relocation project,” Pickle said. “We relocated a drain pipe that goes into the C-108 canal.”

During Thanksgiving week last year, the district closed part of Southwest Cashmere Boulevard, just north of St. Lucie West Boulevard, to do that work.

“The whole northeast side of St. Lucie West will benefit from that,” Pickle said.

That includes the intersection of Cashmere and St. Lucie West boulevards, where two grocery and two hardware stores are located – the kinds of stores people need most after storms.

Additionally, the Lake Harvey Stormwater Storage Project, which was dedicated in January last year, is online for the next big storm to hit the Treasure Coast. Construction started in the spring of 2017. It wasn’t completed for Hurricane Irma in September that year.

“We haven’t had a really heavy, heavy rain event that’ll show the benefit for Lake Harvey yet,” Pickle said.

He said Hurricane Isaac in 2018, which didn’t hit Florida directly, did dump some rain on the area.

“There wasn’t as much rain there as in other storm events,” Pickle explained.

Also online is the Basin 4E-5 interconnect project, which is bounded within Cashmere and St. Lucie West boulevards and the Ronald Reagan Turnpike. Lake Harvey and the 4E-5 interconnect together should move about 5 inches of rainwater off St. Lucie West Boulevard between Cashmere and Bethany Drive during a 100-year rain event.

Infrastructure isn’t the only storm-preparation improvement at the district. Pickle used to be the assistance city manager of Panama Beach, which was hit hard by Hurricane Michael last October. That storm was oddly powerful for one so late in the season. As it marched through the Gulf of Mexico, it intensified beyond expectations. Michael was packing 160-mph winds when it made landfall near Mexico Beach on Oct. 10.

“I learned a lot going up there not too long after the storm,” Pickle said. “I brought that information back – and pictures back – to show our people.”

Pickle said the interconnectedness of infrastructure which has a lot of advantages also has a downside. When dominoes start falling, they can all go down.

“The whole (Bay County) water system went down, because of all the trees that went down due to wind – it tore up the water lines. The county and cities had to go street by street and get lines isolated.”

Pickle said the width and intensity of the destruction drove home how the district must have stronger communications and coordination with St. Lucie County and the City of Port St. Lucie during storms. The district has two employers who’ll be at the county’s emergency operations center when it’s activated for future storms. Pickle said by being there, the employees will be able to update St. Lucie West residents via the district’s website faster, too.

“We’ll get information out to residents quicker,” Pickle said. “Now we’ll have real time data available to them.”

The Tropical Storm Risk Consortium, which includes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is predicting a slightly below average hurricane season, which ends on Nov. 30. That’s due to anticipated El Niño conditions in the Pacific. NOAA will issue its 2019 Atlantic Hurricane Outlook on May 23 at a press conference. Pickle said Michael reiterated the need for all Floridians to take every hurricane season seriously. “It teaches us to be better prepared,” he said. “We sometimes think the big one really isn’t coming, but it can.”

The St. Lucie West Services District’s website is www.slwsd.org.

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