By BETHANY BLANKLEY
THE CENTER SQUARE CONTRIBUTOR
(The Center Square) – Panama City and Bonita Springs are among the first cities this year to receive millions of dollars in federal funding to help their communities make additional repairs to water, sewer and stormwater infrastructure damaged by hurricanes.
The cities are still making repairs and improvements after two of the most devastating hurricanes to ever hit Florida made landfall in 2017 and 2018 and destroyed structures and infrastructure in their wake.
Panama City received $20 million to complete repairs caused by damage from Hurricane Michael in 2018. Bonita Springs received $17 million to make a range of improvements after Hurricane Irma wreaked havoc in 2017.
Funding comes through state grants administered by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity’s Rebuild Florida Mitigation General Infrastructure Program. The DEO helps local governments develop large-scale infrastructure projects and administers funds awarded to Florida by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
In Panama City, funding will help repair and replace 2.4 miles of water lines, 2.4 miles of stormwater lines and 3 miles of sewer lines to fully restore water quality, functioning stormwater drainage and dependable sewer for the area.
“Since the beginning of my administration, we have remained committed to helping Northwest Florida recover from Hurricane Michael, and today I am proud to award another $20 million to help Panama City’s recovery,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said at a news conference Thursday in Panama City. “This project will make a real difference by restoring water, sewer and stormwater infrastructure in the city.”
Hurricane Michael, a destructive tropical cyclone, was the first Category 5 hurricane on record to hit the Florida Panhandle, with maximum sustained wind speeds of 161 mph. It was “directly responsible for 16 deaths and about $25 billion in damage,” the National Weather Service reports.
On Wednesday, Gov. DeSantis announced Bonita Springs received $17 million in funding through a DEO grant to make a range of improvements, including along roughly 2.5 miles of East Terry Street.
Funding will also help the city upgrade stormwater facilities along Terry Street and greatly reduce or eliminate future flooding events. The improvements will make it easier and quicker for emergency services to do their jobs in the event or aftermath of a storm, and reduce the effects of standing water on the city’s water and sanitary sewer lines.
Once stormwater projects are complete, the city plans to construct a multi-use path for residents linking urban and rural areas to commercial, recreational, and civic destinations. The project also includes adding a multi-use pathway along the corridor for walking and biking.
Approximately 30% of the city’s population, and nearly 25% of its jobs, are within walking or biking distance to Terry Street. The pathway is anticipated to help to reduce traffic along the street and provide safer access to the schools, churches, and community facilities located in the area.
DEO Secretary Dane Eagle said he “witnessed first-hand the flooding and destruction caused by Hurricane Irma in Bonita Springs,” and the money will go along way to continue to make much needed improvements.
Hurricane Irma, a Category 4 hurricane, caused widespread destruction in 2017. With maximum sustained speeds of 130 mph, it first made landfall in the Florida Keys, and again over Marco Island, with maximum sustained winds of 115 mph. Tropical force winds extended up to 415 miles from the center of the storm, “roughly the distance from the Alabama-Mississippi state line to north Florida’s Atlantic coast,” the National Weather Service reported.
More than 6.5 million Floridians were left without power and roughly $50 billion worth of property was damaged by Irma, the National Hurricane Center reports.
One person died as a direct result of Irma. An untold number of lives were saved because dozens of city and county governments implemented evacuation plans. More than 5.6 million people fled, participating in the largest storm evacuation in U.S. history.