During years with no hurricanes, as had been the case in Brevard County for decades prior to the 2004 storms, the business of beachside governments included setting money aside as “reserves or contingency funds” to pay for expected post-hurricane debris removal.
In years like the last two, with hurricanes Matthew and Irma, debris removal costs, and subsequent reimbursements by FEMA, became priority number one for barrier island cities in terms of the post-storm quality of life.
If left too long, the debris piles become a hazard, an eyesore and a matter of contention for residents. If debris is not completely picked up, the remnants of the piles left behind can clog drains for future storms, as was the case in some areas of Indian Harbour Beach with the Oct. 1 flooding following Hurricane Irma.
With the largest population and most neighborhoods, Satellite Beach is the only of the four beachside towns in Southern Brevard to file for debris removal funds as a separate line item from FEMA, said Assistant City Manager Suzanne Sherman.
The remaining cities – Indian Harbour Beach, Indialantic and Melbourne Beach – contract with the county for debris removal, paying only the amount left over after FEMA reimbursements to the county for hurricane-related expenses.
The total cost of debris removal in Satellite Beach after Hurricane Matthew that was billed to FEMA was $129,000, of which the city only recently received an $80,000 payment. Debris removal from Hurricane Irma is estimated to cost Satellite Beach $139,000, but city officials are optimistic they will receive the money sooner through a new web-based FEMA program for making the claims, Sherman said. “We are entering the claims directly to FEMA online so we are hopeful” for more timely reimbursements, she said.
Indian Harbour Beach, which contracts with the county, had City Manager Mark Ryan explain the process in the November/December 2016 city newsletter following Hurricane Matthew: “It became clear from previous storms local resources to collect and remove disaster debris quickly was not available and outside forces would be needed to remove the debris for future storms. This agreement was entered into to provide an orderly and efficient cleanup of debris, providing FEMA with one entity to deal with for record keeping along with one entity to make application for payment and receive reimbursement.’’
Indialantic Town Clerk Joan Clark said the contract with the county includes debris removal as part of hurricane recovery services, meaning the city did not file a separate FEMA claim.
After working in several cities during hurricanes in South Florida, Melbourne Beach Town Manager Bob Daniels said he understands that debris removal is a key part of hurricane recovery and should be planned for annually, even if no storms are on the horizon. “I know hurricanes real well. That’s why you start out right away with your planning every January. It was always a key to make sure have your debris removal contacts in line now. Now is the time to get it all set up to make sure everything is all mapped out,’’ Daniels said.