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Mayor updates Sally recovery, masking

Hurricane Sally Path.jpg
Kris Poore/Courtesy Photo

Since Hurricane Sally’s aftermath a year ago, the city of Pensacola has been at work repairing the massive damage. At his weekly news conference, Mayor Grover Robinson had an update.

“Obviously, we’ve been telling you for a long time that we’re working through things — and ask your patience as we work — and get Hurricane Sally repair done,” said Robinson.

After making landfall next door in Gulf Shores, Ala., Sally drenched Alabama and Florida — with more than 2 feet of rain in some areas of Escambia County and Pensacola.

“Most of the repair went pretty fast, except at the waterfront, where we had our most significant impact, where that was more significant cost,” the mayor said. “We’ve certainly worked with FEMA to be able to prevent, because we know it’s not a question of ‘if’ — it’s a question of ‘when’ — we’ll have the next storm.”

During the work, crews saw that areas strengthened after Hurricanes Opal, Ivan and Dennis fared better against Sally than those that weren’t.

“So, we continue to ask for any improvements that we could have made; unfortunately some of those have been denied through the process,” said Robinson. “For the most part, we have gotten everybody back open. We’re very confident we’ll have soon all FEMA approvals, and ready to go forward.”

The city expects to bring out some other bids for projects, once FEMA signs off.

“One of them is Bayview Park we’ve been under construction; it was supposed to be open this past weekend,” he said. “Obviously, some of the weather will delay that, but we’re close. We’re already under construction at Sanders Beach; and we expect very shortly to have something both to Maritime Park and De Luna Plaza, Wayside Park, and certainly construction of the [new] bridge.”

The hope, says Robinson, is that all of the work can be done and facilities open by the spring.

“We sustained probably $20 million worth of damage that was uninsured to our infrastructure,” he said. “The good news is FEMA pays for 75%; the state pays for another 12.5%. But that does leave us with 12.5% — which on $20 million is just over $2 million. So we want to make sure we minimize to the taxpayers.”

Elsewhere, with the number of COVID-19 cases declining in the Pensacola area, the mask mandate at City Hall is being relaxed. The mayor says the decision was made after consulting with the area’s major hospitals: Ascension-Sacred Heart, Baptist, and West Florida.

“At a [current] 11% positivity rate, these are back within the numbers that are within things we can operate within, so we try to be flexible and do some things to move that all — that’s what we’re trying to do,” said the mayor. “As of last Friday we really took [off] masks altogether. There’s no mask-wearing requirement here at City Hall or at any city facilities at this particular time.”

But, if the number of cases begins to increase again, the mayor says residents need to keep them handy.

“A year ago, when we were in September, and I said we’re going to come through the peaks and valleys, and we gotta learn to be disciplined and put on the mask when we hit a peak,” Robinson said. “And learn to relax and figure it out; otherwise, people just get fatigued in wearing it. I only want you to wear a mask when I know we’ve got a real problem; and hospitals are telling us what’s there.”

Robinson repeated the mantra he’s been preaching since the pandemic began: That the coronavirus — just like rock 'n' roll — is here to stay.

“We’re always going to be dealing with it; there are always going to be people in the hospital with COVID,” he said.

“It’s just going to be part of the new normal.”