Jackson County Commissioners met in special Hurricane Michael related session Tuesday and will gather again for a second special session Thursday afternoon at 1 p.m. to complete the same primary mission: To iron out the remaining details of how to move forward with managing the removal of remaining storm debris from the right-of-way.
The board learned at its special meeting on Tuesday that its staff was to formally ask later that day for an extension of the federal government’s current July 11 deadline for having the debris removed in time for reimbursement of most of the expense by FEMA.
The state Division of Emergency Management can, on behalf of FEMA, authorize the extension of several weeks that’s being sought, and a representative of that agency said Tuesday that an answer could come as soon as the same day it is submitted.
The county is taking over management of the debris removal project from the Florida Department of Transportation, the agency that had picked up the responsibility about five days after Hurricane Michael’s destructive path through the Panhandle on Oct. 10, 2018, but has handed the job back over to the local government.
With a possible extension of the timeframe within which the costs of that removal can be reimbursed by FEMA, commissioners will likely set a new absolute local deadline Thursday that would give the public more time to get such debris to the right-of-way for pick-up at no personal expense if the material is determined eligible and the FEMA deadline is extended. Board members are hoping for an answer on the possible extension as early as Tuesday afternoon and were confident they’d know by Thursday’s meeting time.
The county’s existing deadline for getting the debris to the right-of-way was March 31, but in some board members acknowledged that debris has continued to make its way there.
The county’s existing deadline for the public getting the debris to the right-of-way was March 31, but some board members have acknowledged that debris has continued to make its way there. There has been no attempt so far to punish those violating the date.
But commissioners said Tuesday that they will take a hard line on that going forward if a new deadline is set. Board members indicated that they would direct code enforcement officials to aggressively enforce the new deadline, meaning that those putting debris out past the new date would likely face fines for having done so.
A few other issues remain to be ironed out as the county coordinates the work going forward, with a new monitor – Thompson Consulting – in place to oversee the work being done by contractors.
Thompson has already done a preliminary assessment of how much debris remains to be picked up, based on a quick survey of what exists of the right-of-way today, estimating at a bit more than 16,0000 cubic yards remain. Once the county re-sets the deadline, however, that number could rise.
The contractors that have done all the debris removal so far must now decide whether it will be worth their time to continue picking up what’s left.
In addition to what’s clearly on the right of way, there are also remaining “leaners and hangers,” dangerously compromised trees, that didn’t get removed or cut back to the extent that the county felt was appropriate in earlier phases. Because they weren’t deemed eligible at that time under DOT’s management and monitoring by its contractor, Metric, commissioners believe that the new monitor now on board might see things differently and could justify more removal to the satisfaction of authorities at FEMA who decide whether reimbursement is granted.
The county has said it believes that, although some of those trees are on private land ,they may pose a risk to the motoring public and should be dealt with and the cost reimbursed by FEMA. Those will be re-visited during this last phase of removal.