Florida’s Secretary of Transportation Jim Boxold has written to the Federal Emergency Management Authority,(FEMA) requesting a disaster declaration for the county in the wake of Hurricane Hermine and expeditious federal support for repairs to Gulf Shore Boulevard also on Alligator Point.
Following the publication of “Restoration low in Hermine’s aftermath, in the Sept. 22 Times, the Times received a copy of a Sept. 22 letter to Gracia Szczech, manager of FEMA Region IV.
Boxold cited “the immediate need for federal assistance following storm damage to transportation infrastructure,” noting that his letter was a follow-up on a joint Sept. 3 conference call between the county, FDOT and FEMA.
“Franklin County now has multiple roads that have suffered significant damage from storms,” Boxold wrote, citing the June 2012 damage to Gulf Shore Boulevard from Tropical Storm Debbie and last month’s “sever damage” to Alligator Point Road.
He wrote that because these are county roads, not part of the state system, FDOT's ability to help is “extremely limited” since it cannot spend state transportation trust fund dollars on them.
“I am writing to strongly encourage FEMA provide assistance directly to Franklin County,” Boxold wrote. “These roads have been severely impacted, which is a great hardship on many families and visitors, and Franklin County has limited resources with which to address the problem.”
Boxold noted that the county is still waiting for FEMA assistance to Gulf Shore Boulevard, as it awaits an environmental assessment of the area where the road is proposed to be relocated. “This community has been left without important federal support for more than four years, and any assistance you can provide in accelerating this process would be much appreciated,” he wrote.
Boxold reiterated Gov. Scott’s call for a federal disaster declaration in the wake of Hurricane Hermine, which the governor asked for on Sept. 20.
Former County Planner Alan Pierce and County Coordinator Michael Morón both called direct intervention by FDOT with FEMA on the county’s behalf unprecedented.
In an email exchange Monday, Boxold wrote that “the state advocates for its citizens and communities with the federal government all the time. We wrote the letter because we are trying to get some assistance to Franklin County and their issue is with FEMA.
“How and when FEMA will reply is a question better directed to them. In terms of the road swap, the county is welcome to make a proposal,” he said. “We will review it.”
Also on Sept. 22, county commissioners posted a letter to FDOT District 3 Secretary Tommy Barfield requesting aid with the repair of Alligator Point Road and asking the state to accept ownership of the road.
“The Alligator Point Road (CR) 370) was initially part of a secondary highway system maintained by the State of Florida,” it read. “In 1978, the state restructured state highway categories and did away with the secondary roads. All across the state, secondary highways were given to counties, who were told the roads were now county roads. In the mid 1990s, the Florida Legislature commissioned a study to determine if the state highway system should be restructured. Alligator Point Road was determined to meet the criteria (for a state road) but the road was never transferred back to the state.”
At the Sept. 20 county meeting, commissioners said the county has no resources to repair Alligator Point Road beyond the stopgap measures already taken.
A portion of the road is now a sand-surfaced one lane thoroughfare and a detour allows access the street’s eastern end. About 200 houses are affected by the road damage.