March 15 is the new deadline for storm debris disposal roadside, but that is subject to change with any future formal announcement.
The county and city of Port St. Joe have received a verbal indication that the deadline for placing storm debris roadside, which was initially set as Jan. 31, will be extended to March 15.
However, Assistant County Administrator Warren Yeager said Tuesday no formal announcement to that effect had yet come from the governor’s office or FEMA officials.
“We don’t want to stop people from pushing debris onto the roadside for pick-up, so are telling them March 15 is the deadline and if that changes will let the public know,” Yeager said.
County and city have been playing a waiting game on the deadline extension, which was initially to be issued, one way or another, by last Friday only to have the wait for a formal announcement spill into this week.
Yeager said the Florida Department of Emergency Management submitted the recommendation to extend the deadline for placing storm debris roadside last week, seeking to extend the deadline in several counties, including Gulf, Bay and Jackson in particular.
The deadline pertains only to placing storm debris roadside.
Pick-up of that debris will continue through March, under current timelines.
“We are arguing about money when we should be arguing about public safety,” said County Administrator Michael Hammond last week, noting that leaning trees and roadside debris continue to present safety hazards.
Hammond said the deadline for roadside debris is only one portion of the process, which includes pick-up, sorting and disposal of that debris.
“Everything is coming off the right-of-way,” Hammond said. “We are going to get all the stuff off the right-of-way.”
As of last week, contractor AshBritt, which is picking up along county roads, has collected and disposed of more than 1.5 million cubic yards of debris.
The contractor has more than 70 trucks working in Gulf County.
In addition, according to a spokesman, most leaning trees have been removed with the recently approved right-of-entry program likely to address the remainder of the trees posing safety hazards.
Hammond said the process, which depending on whether it is a county or state roadway involves differing contractors, has been “challenging” and required an injection of common sense into the equation.
In addition, applying rhyme or reason to the pick-up process has presented challenges, with differing statements from different officials about what will or won’t be picked up.
“We are all on the same team, but we need someone who is going to make a decision we are going to haul this off,” Hammond said.
The county’s hands are somewhat tied by the cost being borne by the Florida Department of Transportation; those costs estimated put debris removal at $50 million to $100 million.
Assessed insured damages to the county have reached $27 million, Hammond noted.
County commissioners expressed dissatisfaction with the pace of the clean-up.
“It’s been too long,” said Commissioner David Rich. “That’s what I am asking for, a speedier cleanup.”
Commissioner Sandy Quinn, Jr. said progress was clearly being made, but the road remained lengthy.
“It’s starting to look good in a lot of areas,” Quinn said. “We still have a long way to go, but eventually we are going to get there.”
The Board of County Commissioners last week approved submitting some $20 million in requests for funding during the upcoming legislative session.
The county is seeking $15 million for beach nourishment, adding to the pot of $10 million the county currently has in the bank for the project, which has changed in scope based on available dollars.
In addition, the county will seek $5 million to offset revenue shortfalls in property taxes in the coming year.
The county is already seeking Triumph Gulf Coast funding to assist in ad valorem tax shortfalls in the next three years.