County encouraged by latest step in Gustav reimbursement

Published: Monday, October 1, 2012 at 09:27 AM.

Gulf County’s long-running effort to be reimbursed for damages from Hurricane Gustav seems to have tkane a turn for the better, said County Commissioner Warren Yeager.

During a meeting with representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Congressman Steve Southerland (R-Florida), Yeager said the argument was presented to FEMA that it could grant reimbursement of some $15 million regardless of the stance of U.S. Fish and Wildlife.

Gustav roared through the Gulf of Mexico in 2008 and the resulting impacts included significant erosion along St. Joseph Peninsula where the county had just completed a nearly $20 million beach renourishment project.

The county sought reimbursement for the loss from FEMA, originally estimated at some $15 million. The agency originally signed off, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife stepped in, citing the peninsula as being in a Coastal Barrier Resources Act (CBRA) zone and the presence of endangered beach mouse habitat, said the reimbursement be denied.

The tussle has continued since. A bill filed earlier this year by Southerland to overturn the CBRA designation in Gulf County was in significant part filed due to the county’s inability to be reimbursed for the loss of beach.

From the outset, Yeager noted, FEMA and all other parties were in agreement that the beach renourishment project was an exception to CBRA rules. Reimbursement, therefore, should also represent an exception.

“When the project started everybody was in agreement, including FEMA, that this was an exception,” Yeager said.

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