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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Hundreds of gas stations will have to be equipped with generators and be able to quickly get the pumps, freezers and credit-card machines running after a hurricane under legislation Gov. Jeb Bush signed Thursday.
The bill was designed to ease one of the most vexing hurricane aftermath problems: an inability for people to get around because they can't get gas at stations with no power.
The measure was one of several hurricane preparedness bills the governor signed at the state emergency operations center on the first day of the new hurricane season.
Many of the requirements, however, won't go fully into effect until 2007.
According to the report in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the gas station measure requires that owners with 10 or more stations in a county have a generator available and be able to move it to where it is needed. The more stations the owner has, the more generators they'll need to have ready to put in place after a hurricane.
The bill also puts millions of dollars into upgrades for hurricane shelters, including providing for generators at special needs shelters.
"I think we now can safely say we are a model in the country in how to take care of vulnerable citizens,'' Bush said in the report. He also approved legislation earmarking money for upgrading local emergency operations centers, and requiring planners to come up with ways to shelter people who want to evacuate with their pets.
The legislation also creates space for nearly 150,000 more people in public shelters.
The generator bill (HB 7121) also puts new requirements on new gas stations, those that undergo major renovations and those near interstates and along major evacuation routes. They must have wiring that makes it easy to switch to generator power and be capable of quickly getting alternate power going to pump gasoline and run other equipment -- although they're not required to buy a generator and house it at each station.
The measure sets aside $52.8 million for putting generators in special-needs shelters starting this year and $15 million for expanding and retrofitting shelters for the general population. It also earmarks $45 million for upgrading county emergency operations centers.
While Bush touted the money the legislation would put into shelters, for many Floridians who have been through the recent storms, the provisions that may make it easier to get gas will be the most welcome.
"It gives a chance for people to go to work ... It allows communities to rebound quicker,'' Bush said in the report. "Gasoline allows people to respond to these storms individually and not be dependent on a collective response.''
The legislation passed earlier this year following two devastating years in which Florida was hit by eight hurricanes and the nation watched much of the Gulf Coast paralyzed after Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana and Mississippi.
Jim Smith, president of the Florida Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, which represents mostly small gas stations, said station owners weren't thrilled that some would now be required to have generators available. But he said many were already getting them on their own anyway because it's good business.
"We hate the idea of government mandates, particularly unfunded government mandates, but we understand the emotional volatility of the issue and we were already doing it anyhow,'' Smith told the newspaper.