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.
Yeager said the discussions with FEMA and Southerland were aimed at making the argument that FEMA could make the call on reimbursement, whether or not Fish and Wildlife agreed.
FEMA representatives said they would take that argument back the agency and Yeager said he hoped to hear something in the next two months.
“I am encouraged and the Congressman was encouraged,” he said.
RESTORE Act Committee
During its bi-monthly regular meeting on Tuesday, commissioners approved capping the members of the county’s RESTORE Act committee at 12 members.
County administrator Don Butler noted that 43 members sit on the Okaloosa County committee and that he had a number of requests from citizens to sit on the committee.
Butler agreed with Commission chair Bill Williams who said that too many members would be cumbersome and noted that the RESTORE Act committee has weekly publicly noticed meetings.
Yeager added that he was sure the stretch run of work for the committee would include public town hall meetings for input from those not participating in the committee.
“Everybody is going to have a large opportunity to weigh in on this,” Yeager said.
Land use fee waiver
Commissioners, citing precedent set by the BOCC in January, agreed to waive the fee for a small scale land use map amendment to the county comprehensive plan requested by the son of Commissioner Carmen McLemore.
The BOCC earlier this year decided to waive the $500 application fee for a small scale land use map amendment in the cases of property owners whose property had during the 1990 adoption of the comp plan been mistakenly placed in a conservation designation.
Such a designation does not allow building. The parcel in question, along the Chipola River, is surrounded by other lands also designated conservation, some of which are in state hands others in private hands.
The waiver fee had raised questions, Commissioner Ward McDaniel noted.
There is already a structure on the property, the Property Appraiser’s office lists a residential dwelling on the property, there has been no inspection or other building department process requirements met and the county placed a halt on construction on the property when a complaint was filed in July.
County planner David Richardson emphasized that the matter before the board was simply the waiver of the application fee before the issue is taken to the Planning and Development Review board for further consideration.
After several conflicts in the application were noted by a citizen, commissioners emphasized that disparities would be worked out in the process and that all required permits, state and local, would have to be secured.