Village Manger Paul Schofield gave a post-Hurricane Irma report during the Wellington Village Council meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 13.
“We are in really good condition at the moment. Hurricane Irma did not hit us nearly as hard as we thought it was going to, right up until Thursday and Friday,” Schofield said. “There was a point when we all thought that we were going to be looking at a category four or five storm. What we got was basically some very strong tropical-storm-force winds, and we did get hurricane-force winds for a good part of Sunday.”
Schofield made updates about electricity, roadway obstructions, debris removal and other manifestations from Irma’s presence last weekend. He said that it will take two to three weeks to clear all debris within residential areas of the village.
“If you have debris, go ahead and put it out, put it at the curb, but do not stack your vegetation in the road. We don’t want that creating a hazard,” Schofield said. “It will get removed, but it can take a couple of weeks.”
Waste Management, Wellington’s contractor for trash pickup, was only retrieving regular trash this week, since the Solid Waste Authority was not accepting other debris.
“As soon as we know when they’re going to start taking recycling, when they’re going to start taking bulk trash again, we’ll let everybody know,” Schofield said. “Please do not mix bulk trash and white goods [refrigerators, stoves, etc.]. Don’t mix those with your vegetation. Vegetation is going to get removed first, and we will be in the neighborhoods more than once.”
Regarding power and electricity in residential areas, Mayor Anne Gerwig said there were still approximately 4,000 homes without power on Tuesday, according to FPL’s data. Schofield said power is expected to be restored fully within the village by Sunday, Sept. 17. However, it is not within the village’s control to restore electric service, he noted.
The village has also continued to have power outages at its own facilities. The Wellington Aquatics Center had power restored late Monday evening, Schofield said. The pool opened at 10 a.m. Wednesday.
“We are going to try to get Village Park open as quickly as we can. We have just gotten power back there, but there are a lot of trees down. It’s not really safe at the moment,” he said. “We didn’t start on any of the parks. It was more important for us to get roads and the canals cleared than it was to get the parks open. But we believe we can have them open by Friday. If that changes, we’ll let people know.”
Schools continue to be closed throughout Palm Beach County, with plans to restore operations on Monday, Sept. 18.
A curfew continues to be enforced, and one of the main reasons is related to restoring all functions to intersections in the village.
“We have traffic lights out. They’re being restored as quickly as they can be, but please treat an intersection with a light that’s not working as a four-way stop,” Schofield said. “We’ve had a couple of very major accidents because people… are just blowing through the intersections. People are getting hurt out there. The state law is if the lights aren’t working, it’s a four-way stop.”
Schofield emphasized the importance of obeying the curfews that continue to be in place. Although, they were lessened as the week progressed.
“If you’re out on the street after that, you’re going to get stopped, and you need to have a very good reason to be out there,” Schofield said. “As long as we have this many traffic lights out, the PBSO is worried, and just for everybody’s general store of information, we have about three times as many deputies on the street during the day and night than we usually have, so they are everywhere, and we’re happy that they’re everywhere.”
For people in need of water resources for horses, the village has its waypoint set up for accommodation.
“If you are an equestrian and can’t bring water to your horses, we have a watering point setup at the intersection of Ousley Farms and Greenbriar,” Schofield said. “It’s where the big water tank is. We have water out there, and we’ll provide water to you.”
Schofield said he noticed in recent days that people are also getting water for themselves from these waypoints.
“If you need water, you can get it at any village facility. We will provide it,” Schofield said. “You don’t have to go to a water point.”
All gas stations within in the village have restored power, but fuel continued to be in short supply early in the week.
“We’re expecting in the next couple of days that the fuel situation will resolve itself. The grocery stores are also waiting to be restocked,” Schofield said.
Schofield acknowledged the many village staff members who were instrumental in the rate of recovery that the village is undergoing since Hurricane Irma.
During the storm, Schofield said Wellington received anywhere between 10.5 and 11 inches of rain in the village. He credited the work of the surface water management group for managing potential flooding during and after the storm.
“Had they not managed that system as well as they did, 10-and-a-half inches of rainfall usually produces roadway flooding,” Schofield said. “They got the canals down lower than they have ever been in their history, and right now the canal levels are back up to the point where [they are] when we go into the first of October, which is the beginning of the dry season.”
Schofield credited the roadway maintenance workers for clearing all major obstructions by Sunday evening.
“One thing I want residents to understand is we’ve cleared the roads, but we’ve not taken away the debris, because we’ve got some documentation that we have to do for FEMA,” he said. “If we take all of it away before we do that documentation, there is no hope that we are going to get reimbursed.”
Utilities maintenance staff were able to keep lift stations operating during the storm.
“We have 109 lift stations. Thirty-five of them didn’t have power at one point,” Schofield said. “They took generators to each one of them. We never lost a lift station. They kept waste being pumped. We didn’t lose power in our plant. There are no well water notices anywhere in Wellington. Our utilities maintenance crews did a phenomenal job.”
Schofield also thanked those who worked at the village’s call center around the clock to perform their duty during Irma.
“Those folks came to work Saturday morning, and they did not leave until we sent them home Monday. They worked 24 hours a day,” he said. “They did a truly amazing job.”
After Schofield’s report, Councilman Michael Drahos weighed in on something he felt Schofield left out.
“There is one individual in this village who is the first to take responsibility when something doesn’t go right, but I think is the last to take credit when something goes well. I got a text from a resident who said, ‘Paul Schofield does an excellent job doing these videos,’ and I wrote back immediately, ‘Paul Schofield does an excellent job period,’” Drahos said. “I think the reason why our roads weren’t flooded is because you preemptively took steps at a time that was right on the money and saved us a lot of hassle, and I’m a firm believer in the adage that a sports team takes on the personality of its coach, and I think this staff takes on the personality of its village manager.”