Okeechobee County’s bill for Irma damage to top $4.9 million

OKEECHOBEE — The cost of preparing for and cleaning up after Hurricane Irma will cost Okeechobee County government more than $4.9 million, and that estimate is expected to increase, according to information provided at the Sept. 26 meeting of the Okeechobee County Board of County Commissioners.

Emergency management director Mitch Smeykal said the FEMA team was in Okeechobee on Monday to review the damages and estimate the costs.

He said they estimate debris clean up will cost about $2.5 million, based on their estimate of 50,000 cubic yards of debris that will be picked up along county rights of way. Other expected costs include: $172,000 for protective action measures; $150,000 for damages to the road system; and, $1.294 to repair damages to public buildings and equipment.

“That $4.9 million will not be the final number,” said Mr. Smeykal.

He said they expect those numbers to go up.

“We will go through again with a FEMA team,” he said.

Commissioner Bryant Culpepper said while the newspaper provided the information about how debris should be placed on the right of way for pickup, some people were not able to cut the tree limbs to the specified 4- to 6-feet in length.

“They are not going to get a tape measure out and measure a 6 feet in length,” said Mr. Smeykal.

He said the published debris removal rules were designed by FEMA in regard to debris pickup.

For debris removal, homeowners need to separate the various types of debris into different piles. For example, vegetative debris such as tree limbs should be separate from construction debris. Bagged material should be separate, as should items such as appliances.
The property owners have to get debris to the roadway. The debris pick up contractors cannot go on private property, he said.

Debris should be on the right of way, not on the road, and it should not block sidewalks.

Mr. Smeykal said Project Blue Roof has representatives at the Agri-Civic Center. Anyone who needs their roof tarped can go out there and sign the form, he said. The Army Corps of Engineers cannot do the work unless the form is signed. The program is available on rental housing, but the property owner must sign the form.

Mr. Smeykal said the county is still waiting for a disaster recovery center.

Mosquito control will be handled by the state, he continued.

“The state contractor will be spraying soon,” he added.

Commissioner Kelly Owens said some people who have applied for individual assistance were rejected because more information is needed.

“That is where the disaster recovery center will help,” said Mr. Smeykal, as personnel there will be able to help individuals with their applications. “The problem is, there just aren’t enough of them right now.”

He said when FEMA personnel are available, they will probably use the agri-civic center, unless they get a mobile unit.

“If we get a mobile, will move it around to different locations,” he offered.

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