The Federal Emergency Management Agency identified Veterans Memorial Park at Beacon Hill as an ideal location for disaster housing.

The Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday wholeheartedly agreed.

Commissioners voted to proceed with drafting a lease agreement with FEMA to establish what the agency calls a “group zone” at the park for temporary housing, i.e. pads for RVs and trailers.

Assistant County Administrator Warren Yeager said the agency had been looking for potential sites for weeks, but rules about placement in high flood zones were proving a huge hurdle.

FEMA can not place temporary disaster housing in a zone vulnerable to flooding, which has greatly hampered efforts to provide such housing on the south end of the county.

A FEMA representative said the agency had identified other solutions for the north end of the county.

But in addition to problems with placing trailers or RVs on private properties in the south end, the agency also found similar or other constraints with commercial RV parks or sites.

Changing the focus to a “group” setting quickly honed in on Veterans Memorial Park.

In such instances, FEMA wants to place trailers with good access to roads and sufficiently close to schools, stores, etc.

In addition, Veterans Memorial Park sits on a bluff, meaning nice and high from the water even at its worst.

“This will solve a problem they have been working on for weeks,” Yeager said.

Veterans Memorial Park is 40 acres, most of which is not developed, and FEMA has already crafted a preliminary design to place as many as 51 pads at the site.

Those would be aimed at the 40 or so Gulf County residents who have already been deemed to qualify as well as space for residents of Mexico Beach, as the park is close to the community that sat at the eye of Michael.

FEMA would lease the property from the county under terms to be negotiated.

FEMA would also perform all construction work, including pouring pads and running all utilities to the pads.

In this instance, the utilities would likely be placed underground, an aesthetic the county has long sought for the utilities that currently run above the park on U.S. 98.

The FEMA representative estimated that once all contracts were signed between FEMA, the General Services Administration and county, it would take about a month to complete the construction.

The occupants of those RVs or trailers would be able to remain in them until April 2020, at which time the county could request an extension.

Until April 2020, the FEMA representative added, the agency would assist in finding solutions for those displaced residents.

After April 2020 and the departure of the last occupants, FEMA will either return the site to its prior form or simply walk away with the infrastructure and pads remaining for the county to use or lease.

Commissioners quickly lined up behind a motion to move the process ahead.

“We’ve got to get housing for these people to move forward,” said Commissioner Phil McCroan.


Disaster housing for the poor

The county also received positive news concerning housing for several residents of low income displaced by the storm.

One such individual, said Joe Paul, the county’s administrator of the State Housing Initiative Program (SHIP), is a veteran whose home was destroyed and remains bathing out of a bucket.

The county was awarded more than $764,000, more than $14,000 over that requested, from Florida Housing to fund disaster housing for those who would otherwise qualify for SHIP funding for home repair.

That will mean eight homeowners will be provided mobile homes, placed on their property, with site preparation, plumbing and electrical paid for and in place before the mobile homes are placed.

The homeowner, in return, must live and insure the structure for 20 years, at which time any loan amount will be forgiven.