Escambia County’s Plea For More Aid Nixed by State, Feds

Wed June 22, 2005 - Southeast Edition

PENSACOLA, FL (AP) Federal and state agencies have rejected pleas by Escambia County to help pay for picking up remaining roadside debris left by Hurricane Ivan.

Officials estimate it will cost $2 million to $3 million to finish cleaning up state and county roadsides.

County Manager George Touart said Escambia agencies will pick up material from along county roads, but he had asked the state Transportation Department to do the same for state roads.

“We don’t intend to do that,” said District Transportation Secretary Edward Prescott. “The emergency declaration for us has expired.”

Escambia sought help from the state after the Federal Emergency Management Agency refused to extend a May 31 deadline — more than eight months after Ivan struck in September — for debris removal. The work stopped four days before the deadline due to the Memorial Day weekend. The Atlantic hurricane season started June 1.

Touart blamed FEMA for delays in the removal process because the agency failed until March to grant reimbursement approval for an estimated 6,000 structures set for demolition, leaving only two months to complete that work.

FEMA spokeswoman Nichol Andrews said the agency gave Escambia its reimbursement guidelines in October, and they do not include demolition debris, which is a responsibility of property owners. That left nothing to approve in March, she said.

She noted Escambia received the largest share of $1.1 billion in reimbursements that FEMA approved to remove debris across Florida following four hurricanes that struck the state last year.

Touart said Escambia had more storm damage than anywhere else. He estimated 31,000 Escambia roofs were covered with temporary blue tarps, three times more than any other county.

“The numbers tell the story,” Touart said. “I can’t understand why we keep getting turned down. Why put a deadline on removing hurricane debris?”