ROBERTSDALE, Alabama — It could take 3 to 4 months to completely restore the City of Robertsdale’s electric system following Hurricane Sally, said Mayor Charles Murphy during the council meeting on Sept. 22.
The regular meeting, which was originally scheduled for Monday, Sept. 21, had to be rescheduled because city hall remained without power until that day, officials said.
Most of the discussion at the meeting was about the storm and the city’s plans for recovery.
Murphy estimated damage to city facilities to be around $5.2 million with most of the damage to the city’s electrical system.
Late Tuesday night, Sally knocked out a transmission line and conductor with Alabama Power, Murphy said, affectively knocking out power to all of Robertsdale’s 3,600 electric customers.
While power was expected to be restored to most all of the city’s 3,600 customers by Friday, Murphy told council members that it would take three, possibly four months to completely restore the system.
“Our first priority was to get all of our customers back online,” Murphy said. “In several instances that meant having to make temporary fixes to the system which we will have to go back later and make permanent.”
Murphy said in several instances where power poles had broken off, they were simply propped back up or a temporary pole was put in place so that the line could be put back up.
“Our crews have been working day and night to restore power and to be able to get power back to almost all of our customers in less than a week is miraculous in my opinion,” said the city’s public works director Scott Gilbert.
More than 40 workers from four crews in Alabama came in to assist Robertsdale, Murphy said, starting with East Bay Electric of Robertsdale, which includes a crew of 20.
“They were working in Mississippi assisting there with damage from Hurricane Laura,” Murphy said. “When it became apparent that the storm was going to hit us directly, they were released from Mississippi and we immediately contacted them to come help.”
In addition, 10 workers from the city of Florence and six each from Opelika and Tuskegee were brought in to help, Murphy said.
Workers with the George P. Thames Adult Activity Center have provided hot meals for all city workers, firefighters and visiting crews since Thursday, Sept. 17, at the fire station.
“(Senior Activities Director Amy Ochello) approached me wanting to do something to help and we got it set up for them,” Murphy said. “They have been doing a fantastic job. These are all hot cooked meals, not hamburgers and hotdogs.”
Meals were to be provided as long as the visiting crews were in town, Murphy said.
City crews have also been working to clean up debris and has also activated the city’s FEMA contract with TFR out of Austin, Texas, for debris cleanup. The city expects to be reimbursed 75 percent of the cost through FEMA, with additional funds coming from the state, Murphy said.
When asked how debris collection was being tracked, Murphy said the city leased 30 acres of land on Wilters Street near the Wastewater Treatment plant where all the debris is being taken. Two crews have been set up to monitor the amount of debris being collected.
Council members also asked if the city could check into whether or not temporary housing would be set up for those who have lost their homes during the storm.
“I know there was a lot water damage on the lower levels and a lot of roof damage on the upper levels at Baldwin Farms Apartments,” said Council member Ruthie Campbell. “A lot of those folks are having to move out and are looking for a place to stay.”
Murphy said he would get in contact with county officials to see if there was anything that could be done about lodging for those displaced by the storm.
“It will probably be up to the County Commission to go through FEMA, but we will see what we can do,” he said.
The only action taken during the council meeting was unrelated to the storm. The council voted unanimously to donate $3,000 to Robertsdale High School to sponsor the gym floor. The request was made by RHS varsity boys’ basketball coach Marshall Davis.
“We just want to make sure that the money doesn’t just benefit one particular program,” said Council member Paul Hollingsworth. “We want to make sure the money is also being utilized by the girls’ basketball and volleyball teams.”
Murphy said the money had nothing to do with the city’s annual donation to the RHS basketball team’s Thanksgiving tournament.
“This money is being used for the gym floor,” Murphy said. “Coach Davis will probably come back to the council at a later date to request funds for the tournament.”
The Silverhill Town Council also met for its regular meeting on Monday, Sept. 21 and much of the discussion there also had to do with Hurricane Sally.
The council held an emergency meeting on Friday, Sept. 18 to declare a state of emergency, said Mayor Jared Lyles.
On Monday, Lyles said, the council discussed the whether or not to hire a monitoring service for debris removal.
“We have activated our contract for debris removal and have been monitoring ourselves to ensure that they are not taking have a load to the dump site and claiming a full load,” Lyles said. “We discussed at the meeting that some cities are using professional monitoring services and whether or not we should use one. Since we are under a state of emergency, I am authorized to do that without the need for the council’s approval.”
The council also voted to provide vacation pay for employees unable to work during the storm, Lyles said, with plans to add the measure into the town’s personnel policy at a later date.
In an interview on Tuesday, Sept. 22, Loxley Mayor Richard Teal commended members of the community for coming out to help each other following the storm.
“It just warms your heart to see people helping each other to get this town back going again after the storm,” Teal said. “I can’t thank the people of this town enough and all the city workers. They all live here and had damage themselves, but they’ve all been working overtime to make sure people get the help they need.”
The town park was also used as a staging area for assistance through the Baldwin County Emergency Management Agency for the collection of supplies that went out to help residents countywide, Teal said.
Local churches have also worked to supply meals for families in need and local businesses have donated supplies for residents, including ACE Hardware, Buc-ee’s and Piggly Wiggly.