Sunday, July 22, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: In Tampa Bay, hurricane season requires full time attention

Based on the calendar, the 2017 hurricane season is now a memory. But around here, it should also be a reminder. A portent. A cautionary tale. When Hurricane Irma brushed past us as a Category 1 storm, it was the first hurricane to hit the Tampa Bay area since 1921. It was our good fortune that the storm had already weakened; and now it is our civic and personal responsibility to recognize that continuing to count on such luck is not much of a strategy.

Entire bay area neighborhoods went without power for a week or more, and the cleanup of debris in Pinellas County was not even completed until this week. And all of that was from a glancing blow of a dissipating storm. To understand what a direct hit could mean for Tampa Bay, we need only tune in to the continued misery in Puerto Rico due to Hurricane Maria or the repair costs in Houston after Hurricane Harvey.

There are valid lessons to be learned from every one of those hurricanes. For instance, the value of flood insurance in a coastal community cannot be overstated, even for homeowners who are not required to carry a policy. The initial reports out of the Houston area indicated that of the more than 100,000 flooded structures, only 20 to 30 percent had flood insurance. FEMA can help residents in distress with emergency payouts in the $10,000 range, but it is not in the business of replacing uninsured homes.

Congress still needs to figure out how it plans to fix the growing debt of the National Flood Insurance Program before it runs out at the end of next week, and local communities need to be more aggressive when it comes to flood mitigation strategies. Zoning laws in low-lying areas should be scrutinized, and flood zone maps need to be redrawn to more accurately assess risk.

And, just as homeowners prepare ahead of time for storms with sandbags and plywood, government entities and utilities need to better invest in advance strategies. That has been clear with the bungled response in Puerto Rico. The restoration of power on the island was delayed because a $300 million contract had been handed to an energy company from Montana with two full-time employees. This week it was also discovered that FEMA had given a $30 million contract to provide tarps and plastic sheeting to a month-old company working out of a house in Central Florida. It is not an exaggeration to say the residents of Puerto Rico would have been better served by a handful of Home Depot workers.

There is simply no excuse for those type of unforced errors. FEMA, with all of its expertise and resources, should be able to set up contingent deals with qualified contractors far ahead of time. Amid this government bungling, there is still a role for private charity. If you want to help those in need in Puerto Rico, PBS has compiled a useful list of donor contacts at http://to.pbs.org/2i4AY2f.

Extreme weather events are becoming more and more common in this country. If you don’t believe that, just consider the NFIP’s ledgers. For 35 years, the national flood program was essentially solvent. Now, in the last dozen years, it has fallen more than $30 billion in debt, with Congress having to write off a good portion of losses.

Here in Tampa Bay, we can’t singlehandedly solve all of our nation’s weather problems. But we can be smarter, more prepared, more vigilant and more forward-thinking. This community went nearly 100 years between hurricane encounters. Expecting that kind of gap again is wishful thinking. It’s only six months until hurricane season.

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Editorial: NFL calls wise time-out on disciplining protests

The National Football League kept an embarrassing situation from becoming even worse by shelving its new policy clamping down on players who refuse to stand for the national anthem.The league announced late Thursday it would suspend the 2-month old p...
Published: 07/20/18
Editorial: Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s responsible budget

Editorial: Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s responsible budget

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn is shoring up his final year in office with the proposed city budget he released Thursday. The plan includes no big-ticket items, opting instead to maintain ongoing investments in parks, roads and other basic public services....
Published: 07/19/18
Updated: 07/20/18

IRS making ‘dark money’ darker

Under a perverse interpretation of federal law, tax-exempt nonprofit organizations supposedly devoted to "social welfare" can spend large amounts of money to influence elections without publicly disclosing the identities of their donors. But instead ...
Published: 07/19/18
Updated: 07/20/18
Editorial: Ferry is fun but should pay for itself in long run

Editorial: Ferry is fun but should pay for itself in long run

The CrossBay Ferry appears headed for another round of rides across Tampa Bay, with local governments pledging one more year of financial support. But as more taxpayer money is steered into this project, it’s important to recognize what purpose the f...
Published: 07/18/18
Updated: 07/20/18
Editorial: Scott should order investigation of concealed weapons permitting

Editorial: Scott should order investigation of concealed weapons permitting

To his credit, Gov. Rick Scott says he is considering requests to order an independent investigation of how Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam’s office screens applications for concealed weapon permits. It’s a reasonable request, and the governor h...
Published: 07/18/18
Editorial: Algae blooms, toll woes and beach battles -- Florida’s fouled up summer

Editorial: Algae blooms, toll woes and beach battles -- Florida’s fouled up summer

July in Florida. The height of summer tourist season. Rental cars clog the highways and tourists crowd the beaches, motels and all-you-can-eat shrimp joints. Many of our neighbors are off to North Carolina or somewhere cooler. So it’s an awfully inco...
Published: 07/17/18
Updated: 07/20/18
Editorial: Sacrificing two kayaks and a Toyota for free speech

Editorial: Sacrificing two kayaks and a Toyota for free speech

Maggy Hurchalla joked this spring that all she could offer a billionaire who won a $4.4 million judgment against her after she exercised her free speech rights were "two kayaks and an aging Toyota.’’ The billionaire didn’t laugh. This week, Martin Co...
Published: 07/17/18
Updated: 07/18/18
Editorial: Trump sides with Putin over America

Editorial: Trump sides with Putin over America

In one of the most surreal news conferences of our time, President Donald Trump actually stood next to Russian President Vladimir Putin Monday and called the federal investigation into Russia’s meddling into the 2016 election "a disaster for our coun...
Published: 07/16/18
Editorial: A vote for preserving waterfront parks by St. Petersburg City Council

Editorial: A vote for preserving waterfront parks by St. Petersburg City Council

The St. Petersburg City Council made the appropriate but difficult decision to reject a contract with renowned artist Janet Echelman for one of her aerial sculptures. It would be wonderful for the city to have one of her signature works, but Spa Beac...
Published: 07/13/18

‘Everybody needed to know what happened’

The brutal murder of Emmett Till, a black Chicago youth, in Mississippi nearly 63 years ago went unpunished, but not forgotten. A decision by his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, to allow an open casket at Emmett’s Chicago funeral represented an act of def...
Published: 07/13/18