Panama City has taken a major step toward repairing local infrastructure damaged by Hurricanes Michael and Sally. This past month, city commissioners and I approved task orders for more than two dozen engineering firms to begin improvements to some of the oldest water and sewer lines and 13 critical pump stations.
But let’s be candid, Panama City. It’s frustrating to hit the same pothole or to drive through construction zones on your commute to work each morning. However, we want to fully resolve the city’s infrastructure issues by addressing the root causes with permanent solutions, not quick fixes that don’t last and waste taxpayer money.
Infrastructure needs are ever-present realities for municipalities like Panama City. Yet these needs were drastically exacerbated in the wake of Hurricanes Michael and Sally.
Wind and flood damage from these storms shone a spotlight on the weak spots in the city’s infrastructure, particularly within the city’s water and sewer systems. Weaknesses such as obsolete pipe materials and the daisy-chain pumping system left the city’s system vulnerable during the storms. After taking the initial step to restore critical functions, city officials saw the opportunity amid the destruction — to not only repair what had been damaged by the storm but to build a stronger, more resilient infrastructure that will last for generations to come.
As part of the city’s post-Hurricane Michael recovery efforts, we enlisted the help of an engineering firm to create a comprehensive assessment of the city’s water, sewer, stormwater and roadway systems. Using the data from this assessment, the city has secured close to $200 million in federal and state grants and loans to replace and improve key and vital infrastructure.
We are now seeing this funding at work. Nearly two dozen engineering firms will utilize the next four to six months to design a plan for improvements, with the goal to begin construction on these projects within a year. This is only a portion of the greater investment being made in the city’s infrastructure, however. The city has secured additional grant funding allocated specifically to resolve stormwater and flooding issues, allowing us to quickly progress on additional repairs to the City’s infrastructure recovery efforts.
Even as we seek to meet the demand for these improvements, we also recognize the potential inconveniences that these projects create for residents. No one enjoys longer commute times or disrupted services because of construction, but we will work diligently with contractors to ensure the construction process is as smooth as possible.
As we have from the first day post-Hurricane Michael, city officials have sought the input of citizens about what they want their community to become. As part of our commitment to open, transparent communication, Panama City residents have access to multiple ways to communicate with city officials about ongoing infrastructure projects. To report a new issue like a pothole, you can download the Panama City Connect app and upload details about the location and need for the repair. If you prefer a one-on-one conversation, stop by on Monday mornings when our city manager meets with residents to discuss concerns and the latest news within the city. Hearing directly from you helps provide us with a clearer understanding of the city’s needs.
Nearly four years after Hurricane Michael swept through the Panhandle, Panama City is making great progress on our recovery plan. New homes are being built at a rapid rate, dozens of new businesses have set up shop in the city, and the replanting of our tree canopy is well underway. Yet even as we progress on these critical projects, we’re doing more than filling potholes. With every upgrade of the city’s infrastructure, we’re investing in more economic opportunity, more jobs, fewer floods — and a stronger, better and brighter future as we strive to become the premier city in the Panhandle of Florida.