Counties irked over old, unpaid storm claims
TALLAHASSEE — Faced with bills piling up from Hurricane Irma, counties hit by Hurricanes Hermine and Matthew last year said Thursday they are still waiting on federal payments for debris removal and road repair related to those storms.
Local officials in affected areas are getting impatient waiting for the funds to be approved by the state.
“Matthew, that’s over a year ago,” said Rep. Larry Lee, D-Port St. Lucie.
Wes Maul, interim director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, said he was working to push the payments from Hermine and Matthew through the system to get them to the counties, but the process takes time. The requests have to be vetted by FEMA and by state officials. He added that he’s moving to update software so local governments can track their claims more easily.
“Obviously there’s still a lot that needs to be done on the Hermine and Matthew side, and I look forward to helping to solve those problems,” Maul told a House committee set up to look into hurricane preparedness Thursday.
Statewide, there are $340 million in claims from Hermine and Matthew that have been sent for state review, he said. About $50 million has been paid out and another $13.8 million is expected to be paid out in the “next few days.”
Maul also asked for patience for the coming Irma claims.
“As it relates to Irma, that process is just beginning,” he said. “It’s going to take a while before we get all of those costs brought in from the counties, roll it up ... and begin to write those project work sheets.”
The Irma claims, though, are mounting fast.
“It’s a huge horrible cleanup mess that we’ve got to deal with,” Martin Senterfitt, Monroe County emergency management director, said of the debris strewn about his county. “The county has spent over $30 million to this point and we haven’t even gotten to the big spend yet.”
Besides the slow FEMA claims process, officials from the Keys to St. Johns County spoke of unprepared shelters and fuel shortages that gummed up evacuation plans.
St. Johns County administrator Michael Wanchick talked about an elderly woman left at a shelter during Hurricane Matthew without medication or medical records who “started to crater” but was later saved by a doctor who happened to be at the shelter.
“Those situations should not exist,” he said. “The current [emergency] plan documents say they won’t, but there’s just not enough enforcement and I don’t think that issue has been taken seriously enough.”
Rep. Jeanette Nunez, R-Miami, who chairs the committee, said the panel will be looking into how to enforce evacuation plans by nursing homes in the wake of 14 deaths at a South Florida nursing home in the aftermath of Irma.
“We want to be proactive at the state level and we want to make sure that ... they’re required to have very specific plans in place that they’re supposed to work on with the local governments,” she said.