Brevard asks state for funds to finish removal of debris

Six months after Hurricane Irma hit Florida, costing Brevard County government more than $41 million in damages and expenses for emergency responders, enough of the storm debris remains in local waters to prompt officials to seek help from the state.

In a 5-0 vote March 6, the County Commission authorized Chairwoman Rita Pritchett to send Gov. Rick Scott and members of the local legislative delegation a letter asking for $2.5 million to finish the job the state Department of Environmental Protection started last fall.

“While the state did hire contractors to do this work, the funds have since run out,” county Emergency Management Director Kimberly Prosser told commissioners. “That left half the derelict vessels, about 50, and 20 percent of the waterway debris still here to be collected.”

In a report to the commission, Prosser said the county spent $12 million to collect Hurricane Irma debris on land and dispose of it, and is seeking reimbursement for 75 percent of the cost from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

But the state is responsible for navigable waterways, such as the Indian River Lagoon and the Banana River, she said. So far, she added, the state DEP and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission were able to get half the 100 sunken and abandoned boats hauled away, as well as 80 percent of the broken docks and other debris.

County Manager Frank Abbate said the county had a similar situation following Hurricane Matthew in the fall of 2016. Prosser said her effort to get extra help after Matthew was “at least partially successful.”

Scott’s office could not be reached for comment by press time.

And state Rep. Randy Fine (R-Palm Bay) said he couldn’t make any promises this late in the session.

The House and Senate failed by the March 6 deadline to approve a proposed $87 billion budget for the fiscal year starting July 1. The session that was planned to end by March 9 was extended into this week.

“Maybe the governor has some money, but our budget is finished,” he said. “I just wish the county understood how the budget process works.”

Fine said county officials should have contacted him in early January with their request. He said he had to have his requested projects filed by Jan. 9.

County spokesman Don Walker said the remaining Irma debris can be seen in the lagoon between Rockledge and Cocoa.

Prosser said removing the 50 remaining boats and the other debris would cost about $2.5 million. Scott has the power, she added, to tap into reserves or other surplus money, or ask for help from the Joint Legislative Budget Commission, to help the county.

“If the remaining portions of the state-owned navigable waterways within Brevard do not receive debris removal (funds), this will leave significant public health, safety and welfare issues for residents and visitors of Brevard County,” Pritchett’s letter reads.

Just like the county, the state is also eligible for a 75 percent reimbursement from FEMA. So Pritchett’s letter calls the $2.5 million a “temporary measure” to get the work finished.

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