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FEMA, Bayfront, Debris Top Mayor's News Conference

City of Pensacola

Last week’s order from Tallahassee that all businesses reopen to full capacity in the COVID pandemic, and seeking Uncle Sam’s help highlighted Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson’s weekly virtual news conference.

One issue to be resolved is just how much federal assistance is coming to Northwest Florida to help clean up after the hurricane. Work was underway over the weekend to secure individual assistance money from FEMA.

“We were very glad to be given public assistance from FEMA and the president of the United States; we do expect that that will be able to cover many of the damages that we’ve had to our public assets,” said the mayor. “Obviously, we have to pay something, but the bulk of that will get paid by federal and state monies and we’re very appreciative of that.”

The feds will pay 75% of the public damage, with the state and local governments splitting the remaining 25%. As of Monday morning, no individual assistance has been granted by FEMA. The mayor says the city’s neighborhoods administrator is on it, as are individual neighborhood associations.

“I talked with Lawrence Powell and Kelsey Powell; [they] were out this week,” said Robinson. “Gonzalez Court; Sanchez Court, Morris Court, Pensacola Village. Several of our areas trying to document with those individuals that didn’t have web service to be able to get those stories documented.”

Escambia County officials are asking those affected by the storm to submit written stories, with photos and/or video.

“Scenic Heights is one of the ones out there leading with this; getting information out to its citizens to document the damage that they had sustained so that we can send that to FEMA,” Robinson said. “It’s hurricanesally@myescambia.com. If you have a story, you need a name, address [and] under 200 words, and pictures.”

Robinson says they’re also working on a number of other issues, such as setting up a ferry system in the wake of damage to the Three Mile Bridge, linking Pensacola and Gulf Breeze.

“You’ll probably see more this week; we’ll know more what’s going on,” said Robinson. “This may give us some opportunities that we probably couldn’t have done if we didn’t have this opportunity.

“When you get lemons, you try to make lemonade.”

One of those ideas may involve closing a stretch of Bayfront Parkway to vehicles in favor of pedestrians – similar to what was done for a portion of Palafox street during the summer. The mayor points to the vastly reduced traffic since the Three Mile Bridge was damaged by a runaway barge during Sally and closed.

“There’s so little traffic on Bayfront right now that it may be a great opportunity for us to take advantage, probably south of Chase [Street],” said the mayor. “The parks Bartram and Seville Square, in that section. If we could have some time to utilize it, is walking and biking for pedestrians only. We’ve got several parks with parking spaces in the area.”

Besides work on getting a ferry service, Robinson also plans to pitch some weekend closings on Bayfront and see how that pans out as a way to get people outside and active.

“And see what’s going on, not only with COVID-19, [but] a good opportunity to get people active outside,” the mayor said. “So, when you do get lemons you’ve got to figure out the best way to use them. And I think this may be one of the good opportunities to do it.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis’ announcement last week to open restaurants, bars, and other businesses back to full capacity. DeSantis makes the decisions, says Robinson, and the city tries to comply. But, Hurricane Sally has thrown a wrench into the latter.

“We’ve been a little crippled; I’ve been without email for the weekend,” Robinson said. “Hopefully, we’ll get a chance to get back up and figure out where we are, and have a chance to see what our responses [are]. The challenge is, it’s still not really clear on businesses; it’s very clear on individuals.”

DeSantis’ Phase-3 order also kicks out fines by governments for not wearing a face covering – including those set by the city of Pensacola.

“We’re still trying to piece together what that means for us; it does appear that there are a number of things the governor said that we could not do,” said the mayor. “We could not do fines for [the] mask ordinance, but it does not say that we cannot have a mask ordinance. So, we’re continuing to work through that. We didn’t get that until late Friday, so we continue to work from that end.”

Meanwhile, debris collection is in its second week. As of last Monday, according to the mayor, crews have picked up almost 1,400 loads, totaling more than 59,000 cubic yards. In all, Sally generated more than 284,000 cubic yards of debris.