Almost three weeks after Hurricane Hermine swept past Franklin County, much of the worst damage remains unrepaired.
Since there has been no declaration of disaster by the federal government, county officials remain cautious about authorizing overtime or hiring contractors to clear debris because they are uncertain if aid from the Federal Emergency Management Authority (FEMA) will be forthcoming.
Pam Brownell, director of emergency management, told commissioners that the paperwork has gone to governor, but where it goes from there and the timeframe were uncertain.
Former County planner Alan Pierce said the Florida Department of Transportation (DOT) has hired a special contractor to deal with debris from the storm in the state right of way, in conjunction with Transfield, the firm charged with cleaning the shoulders of US 98 on a regular basis.
On Saturday heavy equipment was in use consolidating debris into heaps in the St. James area. Pierce said the firm consolidated debris in the state right-of-way on St. George Island on Sunday. He said the contractor will return this week to remove the piles of trash.
Pierce said he is optimistic the disaster declaration will eventually be issued. “The fact that DOT has hired a special contractor is a good sign,” he said.
Solid Waste Director Fonda Davis said with the help of the road department, he has had crews clearing debris on Alligator Point, which are working their way west because Alligator Point had the worst damage. They are expected to start on St. George Island at the end of this week.. Davis said he would not use county crews to clear the shoulders of US 98 unless directed to do so by the county commission.
Davis told county commissioners Tuesday morning that the Indian Creek dock was completely gone and replacing it was beyond his scope of work.
He and Howard Nabors, head of the road department, said they will cover overtime initially from an excess allocation for fuel, and commissioners voted unanimously to approve overtime for roads and solid waste.
Brownell said if there is a disaster declaration, the county will be reimbursed for both straight time and overtime. Pierce cautioned the reimbursement could take months.
He said debris pick up comes first but money must be found to repair dune walkovers and docks as well.
Meanwhile, 2,200 feet of Alligator Drive, the main evacuation route for much of Alligator Point, remains washed out. The county was able to restore one lane for 800 feet of the road, and cobbled together a detour, on Saturday, Sept. 2. But county commissioners said at their Sept. 6 meeting that the county has no money to properly repair Alligator Drive.
Pierce said Gov. Rick Scott had promised that DOT would contact the county about repairing storm damage to roads, but so far, DOT as not done so. He said county staff is composing a letter to the state legislature requesting that DOT take ownership of Alligator Point Drive.
On Dog Island, also hard hit by Hermine, things are more or less back to normal, according to resident Teri Cannon. However the Pelican Inn and a nearby residence lost both their septic tanks and wells.
“(The Pelican Inn) is uninhabitable,” she said. “The power has been cut.”
Cannon said the structure was unoccupied before the storm.
Davis said the county does not send solid waste crews to clear debris on Dog Island, because they have no way to transport men and equipment offshore.
Cannon said participants in International Coastal Cleanup Day last Saturday did much to restore Dog Island’s beaches. “It looks very, very clean. Most people just lost steps and you can repair those,” she said.
Cannon said about 40 volunteers including island homeowners and members of Audubon and the Nature Conservancy participated in the cleanup.
Earlier this month, Cong. Gwen Graham sent a letter to President Barack Obama asking him to quickly approve any request from the state for federal disaster assistance. Earlier this week, letters of support for such a declaration were forthcoming from Scott and Flordia senators Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson.
"Hurricane Hermine and subsequent flooding have caused more damage than North Florida has seen in a generation," Graham wrote. "We need all hands on deck to help Florida families recover. I hope the president will quickly approve any request by the governor for federal assistance."
“The parts of North Florida which received the brunt of this hurricane are unique to our state and nation. The path of the storm significantly impacted the Florida state capital of Tallahassee and the surrounding ‘Big Bend’ region, an area which had not experienced tropical weather of this magnitude in more than three decades,” she wrote. “Communities to the west and southeast of Tallahassee were also affected by Hurricane Hermine. This includes the Forgotten and Nature Coasts -- a series of coastal communities on the Gulf of Mexico known for their unspoiled shoreline, pristine natural estuaries, and traditional fishing communities which were fighting for economic survival even before the storm hit. Although the storm has passed, we must not lose the urgency to help families and communities recover from Hurricane Hermine.”