With the deadline for submitting an application looming and $30 million in hazard mitigation money on the table, the Board of County Commissioners prioritized their cards.

During a special meeting last week the board ordered the projects for which they hope to receive FEMA hazard mitigation grant funds.

Topping the list is replacing and raising the elevation at the Indian Pass Bridge and County 30B.

The county has been exploring a host of options for the Indian Pass Bridge, which since Michael has badly needed replacement; Public Works determined repair will be insufficient and the entire bridge must be replaced.

As the second item on the list, commissioners followed staff recommendation to seek funding for inland water and sewer plants tapping into the Floridan Aquifer.

The county is already pursuing funding for a feasibility study for such a plant, a move in response to what the county sees as utility rates out of the city of Port St. Joe that cripple economic development.

The third priority will be box culverts to alleviate flooding on the Howard Creek Road and the fourth is a new fueling system for the county.

Administrator Michael Hammond referenced the challenges the county, and its residents, faced with fuel in the wake of Hurricane Michael.

And so much of the need at the time, he noted, was diesel, both in the county and Port St. Joe.

“We all know we are in need of a new system,” Hammond said, adding that a side benefit could be better prices.

Commissioners also turned to the $700-plus million the federal government recently announced would be released as Community Development Block Grants-Disaster Relief (CDBG-DR).

The initial dollars will be over $500 million and grow to $788 million.

On Wednesday, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, which will administer the funds, held a workshop at the Port St. Joe Commission chambers.

The workshops, focused on unmet needs, are the first steps in crafting a plan for disbursing the funds, announced last week by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Commissioners are pushing for several pledges out of that pot of money, which will also go to Bay, Calhoun, Franklin, Jackson and parts of several other counties, including Wakulla and Washington.

Of foremost importance to county leaders, not to mention small rural counties across the areas impacted by Michael is that the requirement of local matching dollars that are typical of CDBG be waived.

In the alternative, Hammond said that a portion of the money flowing to the county include a set-aside that would serve as the match.

It is a question Port St. Joe commissioners are also wrestling with in the wake of Hurricane Michael: what grants can we afford?

Take one recent example.

The county was eligible for more than $5 million in total funding to address and clean water bodies such as ditches and other stormwater passages into larger water bodies.

However, until the county received a $2 million grant from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (FDEO) to mitigate revenue loss due to Michael, the $5 million grant was out of reach.

Roughly $1.3 million served as the local match.

The BOCC will determine how the remainder will be spent.

“That (set aside on grant matches) is our top priority,” Hammond told a recent meeting of the Coastal Community Association of Gulf County.

The county is also lobbying for an identified percentage to the county of the money coming to the region, much as the funds that were distributed to Triumph Gulf Coast after settlement on the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Further, within the range of possibilities for spending the money, the county urges a focus on economic development, infrastructure and workforce housing.

Cleaning ditches

Public Works has an approved list of ditches and areas to be worked on and contractor Ash Britt has been approved to take on the work under the $5 million to clean up ditches and the like.

Monitors are also in place.

There are a number of ditches on private property, so authorization must be secured, but work should begin in the next two weeks, said Mark Cothran with Public Works.

The work will include removing the houses still in ditches in Simmons Bayou and Highland View, Hammond said.