Monday, December 11, 2017
Business

Strawberry Festival Grounds hosting utility trucks, workers from around the nation

Best known for midway rides and music acts, the Florida Strawberry Festival Grounds are now playing host to more than 3,000 utility trucks from around the nation.

TECO is using the grounds as a staging area as it looks to restore power to hundreds of thousands in Hillsborough and Polk County. John Currier, the logistics coordinator for the storm, said as of Tuesday, 45 percent of TECO customers were without power. Statewide, estimates on Wednesday morning said 3.9 million homes and businesses remained without power, more than 37 percent of the 10.5 million electric accounts in Florida.

That's down about 2.8 million, though, from the peak outage reported by the state of more than 6.7 million accounts out as of 4:40 p.m. Monday -- 64.2 percent of the state.

Before Irma even made landfall crews from across the country including Michigan, Wisconsin and even Canada were headed south to aid in the recovery.

"We've been very proactive from day one," Currier said. "Florida can do a storm. We practice this all the time. We do mock drills and coordinate with our other utilities. I don't think we're missing a beat."

As teams arrive, they sign in, receive a briefing, a meal and, in some cases, given time to rest. Their trucks are refueled and then they are sent out to their assigned bases.

Currier said they are authorized to create 12 centers, though the most they've ever had to open were two centers in 2004 for Hurricane Charley. Thanks to Irma, six centers are being utilized by TECO to repair the immense damage.

The Florida Strawberry Festival Board was notified days ago their building, which was designed to withstand a Category 5 hurricane, would be needed, according to Sandee Sytsma, the chair of the board.

"We've always been used, but it's never been to this degree," Sytsma said. "Initially we thought there would be 1,800 trucks on site but now it's nearly doubled."

Sytsma, who previously worked for TECO for 20 years, said she is proud to see such a massive response from organizations all across the country and happy the Strawberry Festival could help. She said when they built Grimes Hall, where the responders are gathering at the festival grounds, they were debating whether to make it Category 5 resistant. Now she is relieved they went the extra mile.

Responders will work 16 hour shifts, day and night, until power is restored throughout the area. Currier said while the plan is extremely efficient, no recovery operation of this size has been done in Florida since Hurricane Donna in 1960. The obstacles are many and yet the determination is high.

"There's not enough gas in our state and we're really in need of hotel rooms, but our guys are ready to go to work," Currier said. "They want to get out there, they want to go. It's a culture for us, that desire to keep people with power. It's in our blood."

Jeff Piechocki, an employee of Michels Power, drove all night from Michigan to aid in recovery. He said the traffic in Florida, specifically at the turnoff at Orlando, was "horrid" and added hours to their journey. He said the trucks were running "on fumes" by the time they arrived in Plant City.

Luckily, diesel trucks are bringing fuel to the center to send crews out as quickly as possible. Currier said the goal is to restore power to nearly every client by the end of the week.

Residents need to be patient, Sytsma said, and trust the power company will do its job.

"We thought we were going to be homeless a few days ago and now we're just electricity-less," Sytsma said. "We need to get in perspective. If people weren't trying so hard you would have a reason to complain, but they're doing everything in their power. It's an inconvenience, it's no longer a disaster. Don't worry, the calvary is here."

Contact Breanne Williams at [email protected]

Comments
Ticket-fighting firm hires former Florida Bar president to sue the Bar

Ticket-fighting firm hires former Florida Bar president to sue the Bar

Times Staff WriterWell, this is awkward. A company that is suing the Florida Bar has hired a former Bar president to represent it. Ramon Abadin has joined the legal team of TIKD, a company that expedites the process of fighting traffic tickets in Pin...
Updated: 11 minutes ago
Tampa: Hundreds protest Trump’s decision on Jerusalem

Tampa: Hundreds protest Trump’s decision on Jerusalem

TAMPA — Hundreds rallied near the University of South Florida on Friday night to protest President Donald Trump’s recent declaration that the United States will recognize the divided city of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.The protest was organize...
Published: 12/08/17
Updated: 12/09/17

Duke outage leaves 7,700 without power near Pinellas Park

PINELLAS PARK — Up to 7,700 customers across Pinellas Park, Lealman and Kenneth City lost power in a Thursday night outage, according to Duke Energy.The outage impacted a cloverleaf-shaped area of customers, with pedals extending in the cardinal dire...
Published: 12/08/17
Express lanes set to open on Veterans. They’re free -- for now.

Express lanes set to open on Veterans. They’re free -- for now.

TAMPA — Drivers on the Veterans Expressway will gain an extra lane from Gunn Highway to Hillsborough Avenue starting Saturday.But there’s a catch: Once drivers enter the lane, they won’t be able to leave it — not until a designated exit about six mil...
Published: 12/08/17
St. Petersburg chamber of commerce charts ‘Grow Smarter’ economic development strategy

St. Petersburg chamber of commerce charts ‘Grow Smarter’ economic development strategy

Times Staff WriterST. PETERSBURG — What started more than five years ago as an exploratory conversation among a handful of business leaders blossomed Friday into a full-blown community discussion of how to nurture business while working to make sure ...
Published: 12/08/17
Visit St. Pete/Clearwater makes Orlando tourists a top target

Visit St. Pete/Clearwater makes Orlando tourists a top target

In a decision driven by some major data crunching, Visit St. Pete/Clearwater next year will focus its tourism advertising on three target markets: Orlando, New York City and its Tampa Bay home."Research is going to dictate our behaviors and direction...
Published: 12/08/17
Having JW Marriott run Water Street Tampa’s new 519-room hotel expected to help Tampa pursue more upscale conventions

Having JW Marriott run Water Street Tampa’s new 519-room hotel expected to help Tampa pursue more upscale conventions

TAMPA — JW Marriott, a luxury hotel brand new to Tampa, will run the new 519-room hotel that the Water Street Tampa project is building next to the Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina, developers announced Friday.Construction on the 26-story hotel is ...
Published: 12/08/17

Gravel spill shuts down parts of northbound Howard Frankland Bridge

TAMPA — Authorities are cleaning up a load of gravel spilled onto the northbound Howard Frankland Bridge on Friday afternoon, shutting down at least two lanes of traffic.The incident was reported at 2 p.m. on the stretch of the bridge drivers approac...
Published: 12/08/17
A longer wait: Some now try nearly 3 years to get disability insurance

A longer wait: Some now try nearly 3 years to get disability insurance

By the time Teralyn Fleming could finally plead her case to get federal disability insurance, she had been waiting two years and three months. The wait was not a peaceful one — a blood clotting disorder pushed her out of the workforce in 2015 ...
Published: 12/08/17
Why has bitcoin’s price shot up so fast?

Why has bitcoin’s price shot up so fast?

SAN FRANCISCO — Bitcoin has been in a bull market like few the world has ever seen.At the beginning of the year, the price of a bitcoin was below $1,000. It hit $5,000 in October, then doubled by late November. And on Thursday, less than two weeks la...
Published: 12/08/17