Half the JEA customers who lost power when Hurricane Irma ripped through were able to get it back within two days, but the utility still worked Tuesday to restore service for more than 100,000 customers left in the dark.

 

While JEA customers waited for their refrigerators and air conditioning to kick in, JEA once again faced its own problems with power failures in its sewage treatment system. The utility reported sewer spills at three locations, plus a loss of disinfection at four treatment plants, that resulted in partially treated wastewater flowing for several hours into rivers and creeks.

JEA, which spent a year on its storm-response plan after Hurricane Matthew in October, had about 279,000 customers without power at the worst stage of Irma, which is 60 percent of the utility’s customers.

By Tuesday evening, the utility had about 129,00 customers waiting for electricity, which is 28 percent of JEA’s customers.

On the sewer side of JEA’s operation, Hurricane Matthew resulted in messy overflows at about 70 locations last year.

Seeking to clamp down on those outbreaks, JEA added 200 more generators for back-up power at lift stations, and brought on board more portable generators and leased generators.

Power failures at three lift stations Monday caused sanitary sewer overflows. The overflows occurred at 9441 Beauclerc Cove Road, resulting in 100 gallons coming from a manhole into Strawberry Creek; 1058 Wilderland Drive for a 30-gallon release from a manhole that went into marsh area of Mt. Pleasant Creek; and at 1647 Brookview Drive South for a 2,000 gallon spill from a manhole to Ginhouse Creek.


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In addition, JEA said, power failures prevented disinfection at four wastewater treatment plants.

Partially treated wastewater flowed into waterways for 7.5 hours at the District II plant at Cedar Bay Road; for 2.5 hours at the Arlington East plant at Milcoe Road; for less than one hour at the Mandarin plant at Hampton Road; and for less than one hour at the Blacks Ford plant at Reclamation Drive.

JEA did not say how many gallons of partially treated wastewater flowed from the four plants, which are operating normally again. The utility said the sewer spills caused by power failures at the three lift stations do not pose an “enduring risk” to public health and were reported to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

St. Johns Riverkeeper Lisa Rinaman said it’s too early to tell whether JEA did better this time than last year because she wants to see whether there are more pollution reports. She said Hurricane Irma “also overwhelmed other wastewater and industrial facilities” along the length of the river.

“Since Jacksonville is downstream, the river in Northeast Florida is experiencing a mix of pollution from multiple sources,” she said. “It is key that the state implements widespread water quality testing to track the contamination.”

For JEA’s electric customers, the utility was restoring power at about the same rate as it did in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew.

In a 24-hour period from 7 a.m. Monday to 7 a.m. Tuesday, JEA restored power at a rate of 3,955 customers per hour, according to JEA’s community status summary report.

During Matthew, JEA restored power at a rate of 4,236 customers per hour during the initial wave of restoration, based on status reports given at that time. At the worst, about 250,000 JEA customers lost power during Matthew.

In Northeast Florida, the number of customers in the dark varies widely.

Beaches Energy reported Tuesday afternoon that less than four percent of its customers remained without power, down from 98 percent without power when the storm hit. Beaches Energy, which supplies electricity to the Beaches cities and Ponte Vedra, was aiming to get power restored in the remaining pockets of customers Wednesday.

“A lot of our system is underground and we do a lot of maintenance on our system,” said David Putnam, managing director for Beaches Energy. “From the last storm, we learned a lot. … We live on the beach and we know how important is to get it back to normal. Our guys work really hard.”

Clay Electric Cooperative said Tuesday 58 percent of its 170,000 customers were still without electricity. Clay Electric says it restored power to 50,000 accounts and it could take a week or longer to get everyone’s power restored in the utility’s 14-county service area.

Clay Electric said it is bringing in crews from Alabama, South Carolina, Nebraska and Wisconsin to help clear debris and restore power. Florida Power and Light reported 53 percent of its customers in both St. Johns and Nassau counties were without power through Tuesday afternoon. Florida Power and Light says it expects to restore power to “essentially all of our customers” by the end of the upcoming weekend. The utility said it might take longer to get service running again in the hardest-hit areas that suffered damage from tornadoes and severe flooding.

Almost 11,000 Florida Public Utility customers were without power Tuesday as that utility tried to get electricity restored to Amelia Island. The utility made repairs to its transmission line and if that works holds, restoration could move faster throughout the island, according to Nassau County Emergency Management.

Staff writer Amanda Williamson contributed to this report.