When Hurricane Ian made its way north from Cuba toward South Florida in late September, Florida Keys residents and visitors braced for impact.
So did the city of Key West.
On Sept. 27, when Ian was away for hours, President Joe Biden approved Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ request for a federal emergency declaration. The statement revealed the flow of funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to help cities and states severely affected by natural disasters.
Key West Mayor Terri Johnston told Keys Weekly last week that she faces cleanup efforts from storm surge flooding, high winds and fallen trees, but the response has been handled in a “well-organized” and “very efficient manner.” He said it was done.
The local government followed a rubric familiar to most people living here. Damage assessment is followed by cleanup.
Hurricane Irma (September 2017) hit the Keys hard and cost Key West $5 million in response.
At this point, Ian’s wrath costs $4 million in debris removal, flood mitigation, road and bridge repairs, and sand encroachment on public roads, according to Key West assistant city manager Todd Stoughton. … apparently … “That estimate is based on his experience during Hurricane Irma,” Stoughton said.
Irma’s most devastating effects were in the Lower and Middle Keys, but Key West escaped the storm’s fury.
While FEMA reimbursement for the entire project will likely take years to reach city coffers, Stoughton said salaries related to projects involving workers working large amounts of overtime are an exception to the lag. This type of payment falls under so-called “Category B FEMA” redemptions and is paid in real time by the cash reserve, he said. He added that Monroe County has helped by cleaning up large amounts of salt water from flooded roads in the northern region of Key West.
At this time, the city’s efforts to date have concluded with the removal of storm-induced waste and other debris.
“We are now in the final haul,” said Stoughton. The contractor, AshBritt Inc., won the clean-up bid and handled the work of moving garbage, storm debris, and what is called “white goods,” which means home appliances and electronics. Priority was given to the recovery of flood-damaged appliances such as freezers and refrigerators. Because most of these items contain freon, a toxic chemical that requires you to hand load large items onto your truck. Most of the hurricane waste was transported to the Monarch Hill landfill at Pompano Beach.
Environmental considerations were a top priority in dealing with Ian, Johnston added. Burning organic matter was not an option for Key West when it came to fallen trees and accompanying natural debris, the mayor said. “Some cities end up burning this waste to save money. But we spent more money carrying it.”
She said the effects of the smoke are detrimental to the delicate balance of the ecosystem here. could be devastating to those animals and birds in both the short and long term.”
She added that it is difficult to assess the exact amount the city is seeking reimbursement from FEMA. “Don’t forget the so-called Snowbirds, the part-time residents who haven’t gone home yet,” Johnston said. “It will take time to figure out exactly how much damage has been done here.”
If Key West seeks 100% recovery of funds already advanced, the city’s deadline for filing paperwork with the federal government is November 21. Stoughton noted that the estimate includes repairs to the seawall adjacent to the southernmost buoy in the Old Town. The funds will also be used to reinforce structures to mitigate future damage from severe weather.
FEMA Chief Administrator Deanne Criswell reported in October that the latest storms in Florida could collectively cost more than $45 billion. The agency has already paid him nearly $1.6 billion in immediate benefits for personal and business losses. The assistance includes $387 million in disaster loans and he $244 million in national flood insurance claims.
But don’t expect FEMA to cash in on Ian’s thrashing of the city anytime soon. Patience is the key here, Stoughton said. “We expect his 100% reimbursement from FEMA, but it could take several years.” I quoted a five-year wait. “Many local governments don’t have the reserves to handle these costs, but in our case, fortunately, they do.”
He added: But we are ready. ”