It’s been a month since Hurricane Ian swept through parts of southwestern Florida. Now, multi-million dollar cleanup deals are sparking another storm after a Category 4 storm.
Contractors clearing debris and doing post-storm repairs are vying for local government contracts worth tens of millions of dollars in tax dollars. The skirmish provides a preview of a possible battle over local, state and federal funds that will be distributed over the next few months to help southwest Florida bounce back.
A case in point is the recent and controversial expansion of a land-based storm debris removal contract that was put up for tender well before the hurricane. Coincidentally, a few days after Ian landed in his county’s Cayo Costa State Park on September 28, Crowder was awarded a contract to his joint venture with Gulf.
In response to widespread hurricane damage, county officials expanded the scope of the contract on October 2 to include waterways and private property.
Promptly disposing of fallen trees, blown shingles, and shredded drywall is one of the most difficult yet critical parts of hurricane recovery. The county official wants to get the job done quickly because he will be paid directly by the Federal Emergency Management Agency for the cost of salvaged debris within 60 days of the storm, the local government said. Officials estimate that Lee County has 1.8 million cubic yards of storm debris.
“We are behind some very important timelines,” Lee County Commissioner Ray Sanderi said at a recent conference.
But Bart Smith, an attorney for one of the contractors that lost bids for the Crowder-Gulf Joint Venture, told the Lee County Commissioner that if the extra work included in the contract expansion wasn’t put up for tender, he would have to “claw back.” ‘, he said. This is when FEMA takes back the money previously awarded.
“Decisions are always made after storms and these are emergencies, but you have to understand that hindsight is 20-20 and FEMA is going to pay off all of these things in a few years and let it go. If we check it, audit it, and then we get the money back, it will have an impact,” says Smith.
Another rival contractor’s attorney, Daniela Sanabria, also said the expansion of debris removal contracts to cover waterways and private property was anti-competitive and warned the commissioner of possible reversals.
“In light of Hurricane Ian, this is a huge addition to the scope of the contract, potentially worth hundreds of millions of dollars,” Sanabria said. “It’s an inappropriate and uncompetitive award.” .”
The federal government regularly recovers disaster funds that it believes were misdistributed or procedures were not followed correctly. Federal agencies, who received federal disaster funds from Superstorm Sandy a decade ago, sought to recover her $73 million from more than 1,800 New Jersey households. After 2017’s Hurricane Irma, FEMA claimed his $4.3 million clawback from Lake Worth Beach, Florida.
Officials estimate the damage Ian caused in Florida and North Carolina between $40 billion and $70 billion, making it one of the most expensive storms ever to hit the United States.
Lee County manager Roger Dejarre said the hurricane cleanup effort is so expensive that vendors who don’t get a piece of the pie “try to make the water muddy.” , dismissed the complaint.
“Some of these companies can make a ton of money, millions of dollars, so every time the politics of disaster picks up at some point,” says Desjarlais.
The amount awarded for cleanup is so large that it is an easy target for corruption. A high-ranking official has been charged with theft or fraud for allegedly overbilling or charging for cleaning work. has never been executed. Federal prosecutors obtained guilty pleas from seven of the ten defendants.
Douglas Whitehead, Lee County’s solid waste chief, said the new, expanded contract with Crowder had a lower per-truck rate than the old contract, which had risen costs due to inflation. said. He said expanding contracts already in place would provide continuity in an emergency.
But two of the five commissioners opposed the deal when the vote was held last week.
“I will vote against the motion,” Commissioner Brian Hamman said at the time. “I’m not happy with the way it went down.”
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