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Santa Rosa To Get $8.3M From FEMA

Floodwaters swamp cars on a street Wednesday in Pensacola, Fla. Sally made landfall near Gulf Shores, Ala., as a Category 2 hurricane, pushing a surge of ocean water and dumping torrential rainfall.
Gerald Herbert
Floodwaters swamp cars on a street Wednesday in Pensacola, Fla. Sally made landfall near Gulf Shores, Ala., as a Category 2 hurricane, pushing a surge of ocean water and dumping torrential rainfall.

Santa Rosa County is getting a chunk of change from FEMA and the state of Florida to pay for debris removal after Hurricane Sally nearly one year ago.

The more than $8.3 million reimburses the county for collecting almost 44,000 cubic yards of vegetative debris; 163,000 cubic yards of construction and demolition debris; 16,000 hazardous tree limbs; and 1,300 leaning trees from roads and public property.

Brad Baker, Santa Rosa’s public safety director, says the biggest chunk of any disaster is the debris.

“We’re still in the process of recouping that money from the federal government, and of course our portion of that $11 million is still 25,” he said. “Which the state typically picks up 12.5% of that.

Applicants work directly with FEMA to develop projects and scopes of work. FEMA obligates funding for projects to the Florida Division of Emergency Management after final approval. That said, Baker adds that other, smaller charges can also be met with the FEMA cash.

“[It] can recoup many of our overtime; obviously our road and bridge guys are out there working,” Baker said. “Animal services, emergency responders. A road, we can claim that on a project worksheet; we had a lot of damage to some docks, and some of our parks and recreation facilities.”

FEMA does reimbursements after storms and other disasters; there’s no up-front money involved. That’s why counties and municipalities have disaster funds.

“Our disaster funds typically hold around $25 million, and we’ve drawn that down several times, and then when we get reimbursed [and] build it back up,” Baker said. “But first of all we have to expend it, and those contractors want their money upfront, coming out here and hauling and picking up our debris. We try to do an expedited worksheet for that.”

Santa Rosa County’s announcement comes about three weeks after FEMA announced that $12 million is going to Escambia County for similar reimbursements.

Jim Homspad with FEMA’s Northwest Florida office says the funding’s path is the same for all 67 Florida counties.

“The money is obligated to the state of Florida, and then Florida sends the money to the sub-recipient – which in this case would be the Florida Division of Emergency Management,” he said.

From there, the Division processes the paperwork and submits it to get reimbursed for a myriad of programs.

“Roads, bridges, schools, any public facility, which are eligible for public assistance funding would fall under the program,” said Homspad. “Most of the time, the applicants are going to be municipalities, counties, and the state.”

From there, state emergency management processes the paperwork and submits it for reimbursement for the affected counties’ expenses in a number of areas.

“They organize first responders and crews, they provided emergency vehicles, generators, supplies, and security will be reimbursed by FEMA to the state,” said Homspad. “And then on to the applicant or sub-recipient.”

Thursday marks the first anniversary of Hurricane Sally. Santa Rosa County’s Brad Baker was asked if a year before receiving FEMA reimbursement is pretty much ballpark. He says to stay tuned.

“It took us over 10 years to get our funding back from [Hurricane] Ivan, so we don’t expect for anything to be rapid when dealing with FEMA and the federal government,” Baker said. “They have tried to do an expeditious process, but expedition to the federal government is different from what we would consider at the county level.”

Sally ran up a more than $7 billion price tag in damage in the U.S. from flooding, water, mold, wood rot, wind, hail, and damage to buildings and roofs. Disaster assistance in Northwest Florida exceeded $95 million.