Georgia cashing in on Hurricane Dorian stourmism

Georgia is telling evacuating Floridians that they’ve got hotels and other amenities available, as Hurricane Dorian takes aim at the Sunshine State.
Emily Murray, a spokeswoman for the Georgia’s Department of Economic Development, said the state has launched a website that includes the down-low on hotels and lodging, links to emergency resources and other info about the Peach State for evacuees.

“We’re here to help. Below are resources to help you find hotel and lodging availability, assistance from our Visitor Information Centers and other important emergency resources. If you are concerned about your travel plans for existing reservations, contact your hotel directly,” the website advises.

Murray said in an email that Georgia also has a partnership with Expedia.

Meanwhile, the Wild Adventures Theme Park in Valdosta is offering free admission to Hurricane Dorian evacuees this Labor Day Weekend.

“We understand that being away from home during a storm like this comes with a lot of emotions, including frustration, anxiety, fear, and even boredom,” Molly Deese, Wild Adventure vice president and general manager, said in a release. “We hope that opening our doors to our Florida neighbors this weekend will help provide some moments of relief and fun as they seek shelter.”

The free entrance — available Saturday through Monday — requires proof of residency or a valid ID from a county under voluntary or mandatory evacuation orders, which could be tricky as Florida has yet to order any evacuations as of Friday afternoon.

— By Jim Turner.

IHOW: DeSantis, at first pre-Cabinet gaggle, says the word “climate,” but …

screen shot 2019-01-11 at 11.22.41 amCapping a week of firsts for Gov. Ron DeSantis, the newly minted chief of state held his premiere pre-Cabinet press conference this morning.

A relaxed DeSantis, who held the gaggle in the governor’s large conference room, spent about 10 minutes fielding a handful of questions from reporters ranging septic tanks to his pal President Donald Trump’s proposed diversion of disaster recovery funds to pay for a border wall.

DeSantis spoke about his trip to Hurricane Michael-wracked Mexico Beach, his appointment of a Cuban-American female Supreme Court justice,  and a sweeping water policy announcement delivered in three parts of the state with water woes.

In response to a query from Florida Politics’ Jim Rosica about whether he believes in climate change, DeSantis used the word “climate” but didn’t directly answer the question.

“We put in that executive order that, as climate changes and our environment changes, water rises in places in South Florida and there’s increased flooding, we want to make sure that we’re taking steps that we can to combat that. We’re going to create an Office of Resiliency to try to combat effects,” DeSantis said.

“Look, to me, I’m not even concerned about, is it this sole cause, that sole cause, when you have water in the streets you have to find a way to combat that. So we’re going to work to do that. I think this office will be able to coordinate a thoughtful response based on…”

Rosica: “Do you agree with many scientists that that humans do cause climate change?”

DeSantis: “Next, next question.”

The climate change discussion was a follow-up to a question about the impact of septic tanks on the nutrient run-off that’s causing algal blooms.

Here’s DeSantis’ take on the septic tank issue:

“In our exec order, we directed DEP to establish a septic-to sewer grant conversion grant program, where local governments would have to put up money but then we would match it. So I think that is a factor, but I don’t think that is exclusively the factor. I think that you have a lot of nutrients put into Lake Okeechobee, that obviously, when the Army Corps is discharging that water, that is aggravating some of the algae bloom that’s caused huge problems on both our coasts,” DeSantis said.

Gatehouse Media reporter John Kennedy followed up by pointing out that the Legislature has been “pretty friendly” toward the sugar industry and agriculture in the past.

As he did yesterday, DeSantis insisted water quality issue isn’t an R or D issue.

“At the end of the day, what we’ve been able to show is these issues in Florida really do not fall on partisan lines. How the Legislature is divided in the past, I think is probably yesterday. I think now going forward people realize… I can go in the most rock river Republican party in Southwest Florida, they tell you about the water. I can go talk to liberal environmentalists, they talk about it. They want us to deal with the water. I just think there’s just such a huge majority of folks in Florida who support making sure we get this right, that I think the legislators are going to listen. Yesterday we had legislators from all across the state who were with us. We had folks in Lee County. We had people in Sarasota. We had people in Martin County. This has not been as salient an issue in the past as it is now.”

DeSantis’ last question, from Emily Mahoney, was focused on Trump’s reported consideration of steering money earmarked for hurricane victims in Florida — and disaster victims in other states — to cover the $5.7 billion Congress is refusing to give him for the border wall.

The Tampa Bay Times reporter asked the governor how the president’s plan would affect Florida and whether he’s spoken to Trump about it.

“I have not,” DeSantis said. “I don’t know, because I just don’t know the details. In all my years in Congress, we never dealt with this idea of an emergency. So I need to look at the law and figure out how it is. My sense is, just as somebody who’s studied the Constitution, the president wouldn’t be able to just appropriate his own money under any circumstances. He may be able to re-purpose some money. I’m not sure how that works. Obviously anything that was done on the disaster front, we have people that are counting on that. If they backfill it immediately after the government opens, that’s fine. But I don’t want that to be where that money is not available for us.”



Nelson asks feds to extend emergency housing for Irma victims

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson wants President Donald Trump’s administration to extend short-term housing benefits for residents displaced by Hurricane Irma, which made landfall in the Keys and Southwest Florida before wreaking havoc across the state.

Nelson, a Democrat who may be facing a re-election challenge from Gov. Rick Scott next year, asked FEMA Administrator Brock Long to extend the Transitional Assistance Program (TSA), which pays for housing such as hotel rooms.

The housing aid is “critical for individuals rebuilding their lives,” Nelson wrote in a letter to Long today.

Some of the housing benefits are set to expire as early as this weekend, according to Nelson.

“After living through one of the most powerful storms to make landfall in this country, it is cruel to make Floridians fret over having to abandon their living situation for the second time, all because of a short-term deadline set by the government. I urge you to extend the assistance period and provide additional relief to those recovering from the storm,” Nelson wrote.


UPDATE: Scott, Tebow huddle over Irma

SWOON ALERT: Tim Tebow joined Gov. Rick Scott at the state Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee on Monday, posing for pictures with emergency workers & staff.


Yesterday, Scott and Tebow rallied folks at a shelter in Jacksonville.

09-11-17_Jax_Shelter3Before touring the Florida Keys yesterday in a Coast Guard C-130 to survey damage from Hurricane Irma, Gov. Rick Scott talked storm impacts with New York Met minor leaguer and former University of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow.

The duo later visited a shelter in Jacksonville, which experienced historic flooding.

Tebow, college football’s 2007 Heisman Trophy winner, had rallied people to volunteer at shelters and with relief efforts.

And this wasn’t the first time the governor took note of Tebow’s assistance with the storm.

On Friday, Scott retweeted a message from Tebow that said,  “@FLGovScott is asking for more volunteers. LET’S RALLY, Florida! Go here:”

Scott last week also retweeted a message from Miami rapper Pitbull, a former paid ambassador for the state’s tourism industry, who said, “Florida residents & visitors, please be diligent. Evacuate where needed. Be safe. We will be back bigger, better, stronger.”


The storm work by Tebow won’t get him a “Great Floridian” honor — Scott’s already endowed him with that.

Tebow was part of the 2013 class of “Great Floridians” that included former Miami Dolphin coach Don Shula, General Norman Schwarzkopf, golfer “Bubba” Watson, and 16th Century Spanish conquistador Juan Ponce de León, each recognized for making significant contributions to the progress and welfare of Florida.

Tebow, who is also a college-football analyst for ESPN, has his own charity intended to help children in need. He’s said he can envision a future career in politics.

By Jim Turner.

Take a trip to Zombieland to take your mind off Irma

What better distraction from the potential devastation you and your family might come home to  than a free day at the amusement park used for the post-apocalyptic movie “Zombieland.”

Wild Adventures Theme Park in Valdosta, Georgia, a little north of the state line along I-75, is offering free admission on Saturday to hurricane evacuees.

“Our hearts go out to those affected by Hurricane Irma,” park General Manager Molly Deeser said in a release. “We want to provide an opportunity for those who have taken shelter in our community to step away and have a few hours of fun at Wild Adventures.”

Just show a valid ID from a Florida, Georgia or South Carolina county under evacuation orders to gain the free entry. The park, which could be impacted Sunday by the storm, opens at 10 a.m. on Saturday.

The “Stars of Wrestling” have a two-hour show planned at the park, called “Pacific Playland” in “Zombieland,” which starred Woody Harrelson as a “boisterous zombie-hating good-old boy” named Tallahassee.


By Jim Turner.

Scott to Floridians: Get a plan!

With powerful force taking form on Florida’s horizon, you just know a Navy baseball cap is at the ready.

Gov. Rick Scott, who has found a niche in the past year as Florida’s hurricane-defender-in-chief, wasted little time over the holiday weekend kicking into storm prep mode.

Scott, who’s mulling a bid for for the U.S. Senate, tweeted out a series of advisories Sunday and Monday as an ominously powerful hurricane called Irma plowed westward on a path across the Atlantic. Some projections put Florida on the edge of the “cone of death” by the week’s end.

“Families should take time today to make sure you have a disaster plan and fully-stocked Disaster Supply Kit,” Scott tweeted on Monday. “I am continuing to coordinate with emergency management officials as we monitor Hurricane Irma.”

While I’m not a weather expert, some readers may recall my profanity-laced appearance in the Capitol press skits several years ago, where I was joined by Craig Fugate. Fugate, a former Florida DEM chief who went on to head FEMA has had some interesting things to say recently about how to respond to the impacts of Hurricane Harvey, which left much of Texas in water-soaked tatters.

Scott added weather briefings with Florida Emergency Management Director Bryan Koon to his daily calendar on Sunday and Monday.

On Sunday, Scott repeatedly posted a link to the FDEM’s disaster prep page.

“FL knows how important it is to be prepared. Encourage your loved ones to have a plan ahead of any potential storm.” Scott tweeted Sunday.

By Jim Turner.