Clewiston adds nearly $140K to Hurricane Irma tab

CLEWISTON — City commissioners have OK’d an update to add another $139,137 to the tab due to Clewiston from FEMA and the Florida Division of Emergency Management for Hurricane Irma disaster spending.

That increases the overall federal and state financing to Clewiston for hurricane relief to just under $293,000. This is money the city spent for repairs to damages, etc. The biggest items were $137,412 in eligible spending for Sugarland Park, about $18,100 for the Clewiston Golf Course and $16,418 for the city’s wastewater treatment facility; the state and federal reimbursements amounted to 87.5% of the total costs, with the city picking up the remaining 12.5%.

During the week before and the one after Hurricane Irma struck on Sept. 10, 2017, the city spent $9,159 for which it was eligible to get disaster assistance and received 87% percent of that amount; in the subsequent one-month period it spent $11,752 and received 95% reimbursement; and for “Emergency Protective Measures” taken from Sept. 4, 2017, through March 10, 2018, the city received 100% reimbursement of the $123,318 it spent so far.

Clewiston Finance Director Shari Howell listed for commissioners the various projects that were eligible to be included, listing seven that “we concluded were big enough to receive funding,” which has to be on a minimum of a $3,000 expenditure.

“When they’re all ready, then they get reviewed, and it starts on the federal side. A good example is your utility restoration. They review it on the federal side; it’s very tedious, and you have to give them all kinds of information, get all your documents together; then once they approve it, it gets forwarded to the state and it goes through review for them. Once they review it, then they have an agreement with you. So every time one of those projects gets reviewed, we have to put an amendment before the commission,” she said.

Debris clearing at the golf course and Trinidad Park, where a tree fell and took out a fence, plus the sewer plant damage were the first three large jobs. Under the protective measures, which FEMA calls EPMs, the city staff took great care in documenting expenditures, Ms. Howell stated.

“Because (Irma) was an unprecedented event, there are some items that typically they don’t cover — like, say, police security, typically not something they provide. But … hopefully that’s going to get funded, and it looks like it did,” she said.

Staff members are not finished with the documentation and responding to agencies’ questions, Ms. Howell went on.

“The other item that you see is Sugarland Park. We have … to submit some invoices. We’ve already been approved for the funding. The sixth that you see — the one that’s hanging out there, the big one, I call it — is our utility restoration, where we used 10 different agencies that were from out of state,” she said. Emergency services crews from three different states were involved — Kentucky, Ohio and Illinois.

“They helped us with Mutual Aid, and it’s huge — $390,000 is the cost. They keep coming back and asking for more information. So now it’s under state review; the feds have cleared it,” Ms. Howell finished.

Commissioner Melanie McGahee asked where the city’s insurance came into play on the reimbursements. City Manager Randy Martin pointed out that insurance claims are submitted first, if a particular damaged item was insured.

“That’s part of the informational items that I’m talking about,” Ms. Howell noted, describing the process of review where Federal Emergency Management Agency officials come out and “they cost it out … and it’s an ‘up to’ (amount). You have to provide the documentation for that, because that’s where we replaced scoreboards and what have you.” If the city doesn’t have all the information such as receipts, etc., “they come out and say, ‘This is what we will pay for this’,” Ms. Howell said.

She said the EPMs amounts sought are “based upon our time records, and during a disaster we pay extra because we have people that are working 24 hours a day when we man our emergency management office. And we are trying to get our security reimbursed … but in our case, we had an unprecedented event where we had people coming from the south heading north, and our police — they were doing maintenance of traffic, they were out knocking door to door because we had an unprecedented evacuation, so I believe we will get funding for that,” she finished.

Commissioners passed the agreement modification on a unanimous vote, and they will probably have to do so again until their tab is finalized, which probably will be after the two-year anniversary of the storm.

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