County officials were in Tallahassee Wednesday with a focus on securing an extension of the deadline for placing storm debris on the roadside.

County Administrator Michael Hammond, initially expressed pessimism the county could secure an extension beyond Jan. 31 for placing storm debris roadside for pick-up by county and state contractors.

But Tuesday, Hammond struck a somewhat more optimistic tone.

Hammond referenced recent conversations across a broad range of topics with State Sen. George Gainer, a top topic being the roadside debris removal deadline.

“There is a pretty good chance we’ll get an extension,” Hammond said, adding a note of caution but also that Gainer supported the idea.

The county will need two approvals to secure a deadline extension.

One would be the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which Hammond believed to be the lower of the two hurdles.

The second would be the Florida Department of Transportation, which under an October 2018 order by former Gov. Rick Scott is picking up the tab for storm debris removal in several rural counties, including Gulf.

The Gulf County bill on removal of over 2 million cubic yards and counting of storm debris is estimated to ultimately fall between $50 million and $100 million.

When county commissioners set the Jan. 31 deadline, officials noted that the FDOT had stated a preference for a deadline 11 days earlier.

At the time, Hammond did not believe the county could secure an extension, but a significant percentage of property owners and homeowners are still dealing with insurance companies and decisions to rebuild.

Meeting that deadline would be problematic for many expressing views on social media and in county meetings.

The Jan. 31 deadline is for placing storm debris roadside.

The debris, commissioners continued to note, will continue to be picked up until all storm debris is gone, with the FDOT and FEMA aiming for an early March completion.

Hammond said should the county not receive an extension of the Jan. 31 deadline, commissioners needed to be ready to address “derelict” properties which have gone virtually untouched since Hurricane Michael.

He said if the county did not step in and begin the process of clean-up, placing liens on property for taxpayer funded work, the county would be dealing with trash and debris for years.

“We’ve got to get some of these eyesores cleaned up,” said Commissioner Sandy Quinn, Jr.

In the past week, the Board of County Commissioners approved two resolutions which will allow work to begin clearing debris posing a health or safety threat from private roads and property.


Triumph grant to abate taxes

An application from three local taxing authorities for relief from ad valorem tax shortfalls passed the first hurdle toward a grant from Triumph Gulf Coast.

Staff at Triumph, charged with disbursing $1.5 billion in BP fine dollars to eight Northwest Florida counties, has approved a pre-application from the BOCC, city of Port St. Joe and Gulf County School Board.

The three governing bodies are seeking more than $21 million over the next three years to provide revenue to offset projected loss of property and sales tax revenue.

The initial projections from Property Appraiser Mitch Burke estimate the BOCC tax loss as much $4 million for the coming year.

The city of Port St. Joe is estimating larger losses due to revenue dips from sewer and water revenues.

Hammond said he believed the Triumph board may hold back on any final action until after the current session of the Florida Legislature, which carries the potential for legislative relief.



Volunteer work post-Michael

A brief summary of work performed by Samaritan’s Purse in Northwest Florida from its Wewahitchka site highlighted the relief effort of the non-profit organization.

According to Jennifer Metello, 1,523 work orders were filed out of the Wewahitchka site with 742 completed by Samaritan’s Purse, 517 completed by other organizations or groups with 264 left to be completed.

In all, the organization expended 48,496 volunteer hours, which under FEMA reimbursement guidelines represents money that will come back to the community.

Samaritan’s Purse closed the Wewahitchka site last week and is due to complete outstanding work orders by Feb. 16.