City will pay to restore homeowners' electricity

Emergency funds will cover costly repairs after Liberty Street collapse


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The city will use its emergency purchasing power to cover the cost of restoring power to The Riverwalk Townhomes, which have been without power since a segment of Liberty Street near the old courthouse collapsed nearly two weeks ago.

"We believe full power can be restored in less than 14 days," city spokesman David DeCamp said. "The most immediate action today is exercising our authority to begin hiring a contractor and moving forward to pay the entire cost to restore power to the townhomes."

Frustrated homeowners had asked the city to pay for repairs to the townhomes' electrical structure, which was damaged in the collapse.

The electrical lines that feed power to The Riverwalk Townhomes were pulled out when the road collapsed. JEA is working to rig a method to allow temporary generators to be used to bring power to the townhomes, but because it's private property the townhome owners are responsible for the cost.

But they asserted that because the collapse happened on city property, the city should be responsible for the damage, including the cost of restoring power.

"It is the city's responsibility to repair damages for issues that the city bridge caused during the collapse," said Andrew Beaudoin, who represents the homeowners.

The Riverwalk Townhomes association fired off a letter to Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown outlining the problems and why the homeowners wanted the city to help. Most of the homeowners are living somewhere else right now and some renters said they are moving out for good.

After reviewing the damage and costs, DeCamp said the city agreed it was justified that the city should cover the repair costs.

"We also share residents' desire for them to live in their homes without disruption," DeCamp said. "This will be part of a long-term process to restore service here, support the residents and begin the longer process of repairing whatever needs to be done on Liberty Street and Coastline Drive."

DeCamp estimated repairs will cost less than $200,000. The money will come from risk management accounts, which the city has set up for emergencies.

Al Emerick is one of the tenants in the townhomes. He said he's relieved that life may return to normal within a couple weeks.

"To hear (there is) reimbursement through risk management department (is an) incredible relief," Emerick said. "Because for a while, for owners being denied by insurance companies, or as renters, we're even in a smaller gap. So that is (an) incredibly huge relief for us. This burden was becoming almost too heavy to bear."

That comes atop the 12 days residents have already endured, but the association manager, Andrew Beaudoin, said these will move faster. 

Members of the Townhomes Owners Association met Thursday night and got the same news. Jacksonville is working to make permanent repair of the damage within 14 days.

"It took long way to get here. I know 12 days doesn't seem like a lot, but when you have no place to live that has heat and light... It's awfully dark over there when there's no light around it," said Beaudoin. "So this was coming, we needed it, and I'm glad we got it and it was amazing."

The homeowners said they believe their contact with two councilmen in particular played a major role in getting this accomplished. They praised Robin Lumb and Don Redman, saying they felt like Lumb led the way in connecting everyone in the city who needed to be involved.

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