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Lawmaker: Cleanup After Hurricanes Without BP Money

Gerald Herbert/AP

Cleanup continues from Hurricane Michael, which hit 10 Panhandle counties in October, leaving nearly seven times the debris of Hurricane Irma, which barreled across 45 counties in 2017.

“Irma got tremendous publicity all over the country; they had a million and a half [cubic] yards of debris,” says State Sen. Doug Broxson, (R-Gulf Breeze). “We’re about halfway through Michael and it’s already up to 25 million yards.”

Broxson, who chairs the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee, says Michael’s final debris total could approach 70 million cubic yards.

“And that gives you the scope of damage, and the devastation that these folks have gone through,” Broxson says. “So, the Legislature needs to do the right thing; the governor needs to do the right thing, making sure that we get the proper package to Washington so that we can get special legislation to help those people out.”

Cotton farmers lost most of their season’s crop to Michael’s 155 mph winds. Aquaculture along the Gulf Coast, including oyster farming, suffered 80-100 percent losses to the high Category-4 storm.

In the three months since Michael came ashore at Mexico Beach, more than 102,000 people have registered for assistance, and 16 counties have qualified for federal aid.

”Storms have become so complicated, and funding – through FEMA and the [Army] Corps of Engineers and through special legislation – it really needs to have kind of a ‘enterprise zone’ where it can be tracked from the time the storm hits, to the end of the funding stream. Which could be ten years.”

Hurricane season 2019 could be another busy one, with storms as strong as Michael a possibility. Broxson has given that some thought.

Credit deadstate.org
State Sen. Doug Broxson (R-Gulf Breeze).

“My fear is that we’ll have another storm next year,” he says. “We already have three storms that we’re dealing with from the same department. And so if [Michael] gets packed down with all the other storms, we will be forgotten about. And it will be a shame and a disgrace to the state that we did not do what’s right for the poorest of the poor among us.”

Lawmakers from downstate – who know a thing of two about hurricanes – have shown some empathy to the Panhandle, says Broxson. But not as much as they could have. Broxson does like Gov. Ron DeSantis’ appointment of former legislator Jared Moskowitz — a Democrat — as state Emergency Management Director.

Credit wgcu.org
Jared Moskowitz, former State Rep. and now FL Emergency Management Director.

“[Moskowitz] has a lot of training in this area; I’ve talked to him several times,” Broxson says. “He likes the idea of setting these storms aside and making sure they’re being tracked individually rather than by one department. Hopefully, he’ll be the person that we need.”

But lurking on the horizon is what Broxson calls his biggest fear – legislators from south Florida who would want to raid the BP oil spill fund controlled by Triumph Gulf Coast and use it for storms, before seeking money from the government.

“That is absolutely a non-starter for all of us,” says Sen. Doug Broxson. “We can’t afford to take what is a generational change that we were given by BP – unfortunately given – and use it for a disaster that really the state and federal governments should be responsible for.”

Two of Broxson’s Senate colleagues – Tallahassee Democrat Bill Montford and Panama City Republican George Gainer – agree that cleanup and recovery will not be completed overnight and that the law setting up Triumph and its funding procedures must be left alone.

“Senators Gainer, Montford and myself are committed to making sure that any legislation that would change any part of that bill that we passed two years ago would not change at all,” said Broxson. “Otherwise, we’re in deep trouble.”

Last month, a report before the Senate Appropriations Committee showed Florida’s budget will face increased pressure from the impact of Hurricane Michael, with the tab expected to exceed the costs from Irma.