It’s been a month since Hurricane Ian swept through parts of southwestern Florida. A multi-million dollar decontamination contract is now sparking another storm after a Category 4 storm in US states.
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 at Costa State Park in Cayo, Lee County 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.
Local governments receive direct payment from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for the cost of debris collected within 60 days of a storm, so county officials want to get the job done quickly. Officials estimate that Lee County has 1.4 million cubic meters (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 they didn’t bid for the extra work included in the expansion of the contract, they would ” 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, Daniel Sanabria, also said the expansion of debris removal contracts to cover waterways and private property was anticompetitive and warned the commissioner of possible reversal.
“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 will periodically reimburse disaster funds if it determines that disaster funds were misdistributed or were not properly followed.
Federal agencies sought to recover $73 million from more than 1,800 New Jersey households that received federal disaster funds from Superstorm Sandy ten years ago. After 2017’s Hurricane Irma, FEMA claimed his $4.3 million clawback from Lake Worth Beach, Florida.
Officials estimate that Ian caused $40 billion to $70 billion in damage in Florida and North Carolina, making it one of the deadliest storms ever to hit the United States. At least 118 people have died in Florida from the storm.
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 money given for cleanup is so large that it can be an easy target for corruption.
In Bay County, Florida, where Hurricane Michael, a Category 5 storm, made landfall in 2018, 10 businessmen and officials from the city of Lynn Haven were charged with theft or fraud for alleged overbilling or charging cleaning fees. indicted. Work that has never been done. Federal prosecutors obtained guilty pleas from seven of the ten defendants.
Doug Whitehead, Lee County’s solid waste chief, said the new expanded contract with Crowder will cost less per truck than the old contract, which had higher costs due to inflation. rice field. 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.”