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Collier County project focuses on back-up power systems ahead of hurricane season

DEMOCRACYWATCH:CollierPumps
Samantha Roesler
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A pump station near Wiggins Pass in North Naples will receive a back-up generator. Construction is expected to begin this month at some of the 14 sites where the automatic emergency systems will be placed.

On Friday, Aug. 13, 2004 Vollen Loucks and his family lost power at 3 p.m. as Hurricane Charley ripped its way through Southwest Florida. This was the start of a two week period with no power for the family. “Basically what we did every day was we worked in the yard until noon, cleaned the pool and cooled off, then took a shower in my bathroom with a candle,” Loucks said. “I had a chest freezer in my garage that I had full of food, so the first Saturday morning I made bacon and eggs and toast because I learned you can make toast on a char grill.”

The Loucks family was one of thousands in Southwest Florida that experienced an extended period of time with no electricity.

When Hurricane Irma hit the area in 2017, Loucks once again lost power, but this time the outage was only for three days and he was prepared with a generator that he hooked up right away to the refrigerator and master bedroom. He knows people who prepare for the worst when it comes to the aftermath of hurricanes. “I have a farmer friend who’s getting ready to start filling up water in cans so he can flush the toilet when there’s not power, and then they won’t have a problem,” Loucks said.

Ahead of the 2022 hurricane season beginning June 1, the Collier County Public Utilities Department is working hard on a project to increase critical infrastructure resiliency. The goal is to make it more certain that people will have power after a big storm. A large part of this project involves increasing the number of different kinds of generators around the county. It is expected that Collier County will have 71 portable generators by the end of 2022, and 10 portable generators purchased on average each year as part of the ongoing project.

“(After Irma), there were some areas where the pump stations couldn’t keep the water pumping. So, we asked residents not to flush the toilet, not to run the water, don’t go take a shower right now,” said Collier Public Utilities representative Evelyn Longa. “Even after the power came on, it took a while for the pump stations to get everything moving along, so we asked residents not to use our facilities.”

Aside from the effort to increase portable generators that can be placed anywhere in the county, 14 automatic emergency back-up power systems will be placed at current pump stations. The locations of this emergency backup equipment are dependent on past issues at the pump station during an emergency event, the sewage overflow and the type of facilities that discharge their wastewater to the pump station. Facilities that discharge a lot of wastewater would include healthcare centers, fire stations or schools.

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Collier County Public Utilities
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A map showing where seven of the 14 permanent emergency back-up power systems will be placed at existing pumpstations.

The 14 permanent generators are equipped with an automatic transfer switch that ensures power is delivered consistently from one of two power sources: either FPL or the generator. If the FPL source fails, the generator will automatically become the secondary power source.

The project of implementing these 14 back-up systems is costing Collier County more than $3.5 million. Due to supply chain issues, putting in the generators will take until the end of this year.

Another effort made by Collier County for the infrastructure improvement program was the building and completion of Master Pump Station (MPS) 306. This $10 million facility is a wastewater booster system, which has wastewater remaining in the piping at all times, eliminating the need for a wet well. This minimizes the potential for odors and spills.

This station, which opened last year, replaced the former MPS 306, which was 27 years old. This new MPS more than doubles the capacity from 7.5 million gallons per day to 15.8 million gallons per day.

Collier County officials recognize the negative effects of not having power that many Southwest Florida residents have had to endure after major storms. Officials believe this project should decrease the amount of power outages substantially, and reduce the chances of sanitary sewer overflows.

“We have the capability that if there’s a storm that’s hitting Southwest Florida, we can bring them in from other parts of the state and I think our emergency team kind of counts on that,” said Evelyn Longa of County Public Utilities. “The problem when you have a Hurricane Irma that hits the entire state of Florida, is we couldn’t bring in resources from somewhere else.”

It is anticipated that the Public Utilities Department will have over 200 pieces of emergency standby equipment for the critical pump stations by 2023.

Residents are encouraged to visit http://www.colliercountyfl.gov/hurricaneprep for information on preparing for hurricanes and how to handle trash and yard waste after a storm.