JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – As the peak of hurricane season passes, there's still the question of whether the city of Jacksonville should be required to provide sandbags like surrounding counties do ahead of major hurricanes.
One city councilwoman thinks it should.
The question comes after the Ken Knight Drive area on the Northside, which is known to flood during hurricanes and even hard rains, requested sandbags from the city ahead of Hurricane Dorian. The News4Jax I-TEAM learned that, ultimately, volunteers had to provide sandbags for the neighborhood.
The I-TEAM found an email to the mayor and council members from a Jacksonville woman, who asks why Duval County was the only county in the area not providing sandbags to flood-prone areas, such as Ken Knight Drive.
For years, the low-lying, low-income neighborhood, with Ken Knight Drive homes backing up to the Ribault River, has flooded.
"I keep my boots on the porch. Just in case I have to go out, I can walk out in the water," longtime Ken Knight Drive resident Velma Aiken said.
Aiken got help from an area church to gut her home after floodwaters creeped inside during Hurricane Irma in 2017.
"I have never seen as much water as I've seen with Irma," Aiken said. "Irma flushed water in so fast, I didn't even have time to grab clothes."
This time, ahead of Hurricane Dorian, people living on Ken Knight Drive asked the city and council members for help securing their homes from floodwaters. Days ahead of Dorian's projected hit, the Jacksonville woman wrote the email addressed to the mayor and the City Council.
"What did you do for the least of these? Ken Knight Drive [residents] requested help with sandbags to keep from flooding and the city responds for them to take care of it themselves by going to Home Depot. Home Depot doesn’t have sand or the bags in stock. Why is the River City the only county in the area not providing sand and bags to fill them to the (residents) of Duval [County] who are in flood-prone areas and low-lying areas?" the email reads.
Councilwoman Brenda Priestly Jackson, who represents District 10, responded to the woman, saying, "Our neighbors and D-10 constituents on Ken Knight Drive are a priority. We requested sandbags and additional resources for them and our other neighbors in D-10 … I concur that our timely response to those of our neighbors most in need during Hurricane Dorian will be a reflection of our commitment to each other."
Priestly Jackson said she first requested sandbags from the city and a member of the mayor’s staff contacted a local nonprofit to supply Ken Knight Drive residents with sandbags. But in the end, according to Priestly Jackson, a different volunteer group was able to give the neighborhood sandbags ahead of Hurricane Dorian.
"The city was out here because they gave us papers and stuff, telling us what we need to do in the flood time and this that and the other," Aiken said. "Then, later, they brought sandbags, so I was thinking it was coming from the city. But it was volunteers."
According to the city, representatives from the mayor’s office, Public Works Department, Neighborhoods Department and the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department completed a walk-through of the community with Priestly Jackson, going door to door to inform residents about potential dangers and provide safety information, but the sandbags were not provided by the city.
When asked why the city does not supply sandbags, a city spokesperson told the I-TEAM, "We understand citizens’ concerns; however, because Jacksonville is a geographically diverse city covering 840 square miles with stormwater needs and a population size that are different from neighboring counties the City does not provide sandbags. We encourage residents who believe sandbags are a necessity to consult with their local hardware store."
Moving forward, Priestly Jackson believes the city should be supplying communities, such as Ken Knight Drive, with sandbags and other supplies.
"I anticipate that my colleagues on the council and others are going to talk about the need to have sandbags available to our residents in Jacksonville," Priestly Jackson said.
The councilwoman added that she plans to bring up the issue at City Council meetings.