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Cape to get second FEMA reimbursement

By Staff | Aug 1, 2019

Just weeks after FEMA approved $5.6 million to help the city of Cape Coral offset the cost of cleanup following Hurricane Irma, the agency has approved more funds for the city.

On Tuesday, FEMA approved $4,581,446 for the state of Florida to help Cape Coral defray the costs of debris removal in the wake of the Sept. 10, 2017 storm.

Lee County was allocated $4,015,575, its first grant under FEMA’s Public Assistance Program.

City officials greeted the news with appreciation.

“We are always appreciative of reimbursements from FEMA to replenish our disaster relief funds and other funds used for debris removal from Hurricane Irma,” said City Manager John Szerlag.

Mayor Joe Coviello also said the grants to replenish funds expended are good news, and that the money could, perhaps, be worked into next year’s budget.

“I don’t see why it should take more than a year to budget it. When it comes down to what we do with it when it comes in, we have a plan going forward,” Coviello said.

Three weeks ago, on July 11, the city learned it would receive $5.6 million in FEMA recovery funds.

The two FEMA grants will reimburse the city for the cost of removal and disposal of debris from within Cape Cora between Sept. 18, 2017 and March 3, 2018.

During that time period, the city’s personnel and contractors gathered and hauled away more than 175,510 cubic yards of vegetative debris from rights of way and 773 cubic yards of construction/demolition debris from rights of way and canals. They also removed 848 tree limbs and 103 trees deemed to pose a threat to public safety.

According to numbers provided to The Breeze in September 2018, countywide, commercial loss due to Irma totaled $102.4 million, residential loss totaled $725.9 million with another $4.4 million in losses that fell in neither category.

Irma left behind 2,704,830 cubic yards of debris in unincorporated Lee County and Estero, with removal costs nearing $40 million.

Cape Coral claims to FEMA totaled $18.1 million, with FEMA typically paying out 75 percent. That means the city could ultimately receive a little more than $13.5 million – another $3.5 million – though Coviello said he doesn’t expect much more.

The FEMA funds have not been inserted into the city’s FY 2020 budget, since it is unknown when that money will come in. Coviello said the appropriation has to go through the state for approval before the city gets it, and that during Tuesday’s joint meeting with the Cape Coral Budget Review Committee, that topic could come up.

City spokesperson Maureen Buice said it may be several months before the city receives the approved funds.

To date, Cape Coral has received about $197,000 in reimbursements.

Coviello believes the city should get the money during next year’s budget cycle and that, if they do, it should to go replenish reserves.

“We want to be prepared again if we have some other disaster hit us. We had $5 million in one account when Irma hit and I’m sure there was money in other reserves we have to replenish,” Coviello said.

FEMA’s Public Assistance program provides grants to state, tribal, and local governments, and certain types of private non-profit organizations including some houses of worship, so that communities can quickly respond to and recover from major disasters or emergencies.

Funding for this Public Assistance project is authorized under Sections 403 of the Robert T. Stafford Act for Florida to cover Hurricane Irma-related expenses, reimbursing eligible applicants for the cost of debris removal; life-saving emergency protective measures; and the repair, replacement or restoration of disaster-damaged facilities like buildings, roads and utilities, the agency said in a prepared statement.

“FEMA’s Public Assistance grant program is an essential source of funding for communities recovering from a federally declared disaster or emergency. The Florida Division of Emergency Management works with FEMA during all phases of the PA program and conducts final reviews of FEMA-approved projects,” the release states.