The Indian Trail Improvement District and the Town of Loxahatchee Groves have made the necessary preparations for the projected arrival of Hurricane Irma sometime this weekend, and its potential aftermath.
In an emergency meeting on Wednesday, the ITID Board of Supervisors heard reports from staff on their state of readiness.
ITID President Jennifer Hager said the district has taken all precautions and is making sure that everything is under control.
“I think we are better prepared than going into [Tropical Storm] Isaac,” Hager said. “I really feel OK. I feel so OK that I’m going to stay in my house with my animals and my children, and hope for the best. I’ll be here for the district throughout and after. We need to not panic and be helpful to our neighbors, and take care of each other.”
ITID Manager John “Woody” Wodraska, the former head of the South Florida Water Management District, said he has put together a team that will manage the situation as efficiently as possible.
“I’ve managed several hurricanes and have a pretty good idea of what is required for an organization to cope with this,” Wodraska said. “Make no mistake, this is a special type of hurricane. They said if the scoring system would allow, this would actually go to a Category 6 hurricane, with 185 mph winds.”
He noted that Irma is expected to arrive in the Florida Keys and Miami sometime Sunday morning as a Category 4 storm.
“Our best thinking right now is we will experience hurricane force winds mid-afternoon on Sunday,” he said. “We are looking at a substantial Category 4 hurricane impacting our area, and staff has had numerous meetings in preparation for this event.”
Wodraska said that Irma is expected to be more significant as a wind event than rain, with between 6 and 12 inches of rain projected.
ITID Director of Stormwater Operations Greg Shafer said the amount of rain will be determined more by the speed the storm travels through the area.
“In any case, we are preparing for the very worst,” Shafer said. “When the governor declared a state of emergency, we immediately began our pre-storm drawdown. As of now, we are already at pre-storm drawdown, and in some areas, we are below that.”
Shafer said that he has been in contact with the SFWMD and the Seminole Improvement District, and they are willing to take any amount of water ITID gives them.
“I’m taking advantage of that, and I’m giving them basically everything I can conjure up,” he said.
Wodraska explained that the SFWMD’s C-51 Canal along Southern Blvd. is the primary recipient of the water, and with about an 8-foot head differential where the C-51 spills to tide, it is capable of receiving enormous amounts of water.
“We’re fortunate that we can get gravity discharge all the time,” he said, explaining that Homestead at high tide has a differential of only about 3 feet, which can be problematic with a storm tide.
“You open up the gate and sometimes the water comes back in,” he said, explaining that the C-51 Basin is one of the largest in the SFWMD, and tends to drain the eastern portion of the county before accepting stormwater from the western areas.
“This area has always been known as having problems with respect to drainage, but as far as preparation for this storm that’s coming, creating freeboard in our canal systems… we’re in as good a shape as we can be,” he said.
Wodraska recalled that during Tropical Storm Isaac, ITID anticipated only 4 inches of rain, and due to the unusual pattern of the storm, the area received 19 inches.
He said one big concern for the district is the higher water level in the J.W. Corbett Wildlife Management Area and the chance of a breach along a levee there that is only partially complete.
“One of the things I’ve told staff, I want to really improve communication with our sister drainage districts, Royal Palm Beach and everybody else,” Wodraska said. “Everybody should share our phone numbers and be on call to find out what everybody else has been doing, and coordinate this activity.”
Loxahatchee Groves Town Manager Bill Underwood said he has placed notifications on the town’s web site with emergency advice, as well as links to emergency agencies, including the Loxahatchee Groves Water Management District and Palm Beach County.
“We met just yesterday with the debris hauler, and they’ve been in contact with the debris monitoring firm,” Underwood told the Town-Crier on Wednesday. “The debris hauling firm is staging equipment in different areas of the state and county, and the monitoring firm is prepared to have contact with four of their people, so that if we miss one, we have three others we are able to contact.”
Underwood said that he has established contact with the necessary agencies that will be essential to weather the storm and its aftermath.
“The solid waste hauler is picking up stuff today throughout the town,” he said. “I don’t know how much they’ll get done, but they’re working.”
He said he expects Loxahatchee Groves Town Hall to experience minimal electric outages, as it is on the same electrical circuit as Palms West Hospital.
“We’ll be up shortly after losing electricity in the event we get landfall, and we’ll be up and operational as soon as the hurricane is over,” Underwood said, adding that the town’s building is only about six years old and built to withstand Category 4 winds.
“Nobody knows about a Cat 5,” he said. “It’s good up to a Cat 4. It has impact windows and is solidly built. We’ll be up and operational as soon we need to be after the storm passes.”
Underwood expects that cleaning up will be the worst part.
“That’s when it really starts,” he said. “That’s when the headache really begins. I feel badly for those in Houston. I’m only hoping that we get positive response from the weather and it goes significantly to the east.”