Power outages, flooded streets and downed trees. Closed schools, blocked roads and sewage discharges. Those are some of the consequences around Tampa Bay of a minor hurricane that grazed the region as it headed straight for the Big Bend area and Tallahassee. And there are some lessons to be learned from a close call.
First, many residents are out of practice. It's been more than a decade since a hurricane threatened the region, and newer and younger residents have no experience in preparing for hurricane. Hermine is a reminder to pay close attention to storm warnings and be prepared with supplies and evacuation plans. Even the flooding associated with this hurricane caused inconveniences or worse in many neighborhoods.
It's also clear that taxpayers and local governments will have to spend more to expand and modernize stormwater and sewage systems. The Tampa City Council passed a new stormwater fee late Thursday that will finance $251 million in drainage improvements to a system that is more than a century old. St. Petersburg and St. Pete Beach will be boosting spending on sewage systems in the coming year. But there is more to be done. Pinellas County, St. Petersburg, Tampa and Clearwater could not handle the storm. Millions of gallons of untreated or partially treated sewage were dumped into Tampa Bay or the Hillsborough River, and sewage flowed through some Clearwater streets.
That is unacceptable. Imagine what a more direct hit from a stronger hurricane would mean. Stormwater and sewage systems are not sexy, but they are essential and they have to perform better than they did this week. Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch suggests the county spend $1 million in BP settlement money to assess its needs, and that would be a good place to start.