At the county’s Tuesday meeting, County RESTORE Coordinator Alan Pierce told commissioners repair of Alligator Drive is progressing unexpectedly quickly.

He said that on July 13, he attended a FEMA meeting on Alligator Point to kick-off the Environmental Assessment (EA) process for repair of roads damaged during last fall’s Hurricane Hermine. Attendees included Will Kendrick, representing U.S. Rep. Neal Dunn, 10 state and federal representatives and Clay Kennedy of Preble Rish, the county’s consulting engineer.

Attendees learned FEMA has obligated $45,000 for repairs to the west end of Alligator Drive and the damaged section of Chip Morrison, which can begin without waiting for the EA to be completed on the east end.

Pierce said FEMA has agreed to reimburse the county for the traffic signals from the time they were installed until a contractor becomes responsible for repairing the road, and controls the flow of traffic. The county must pay for the signals until federal funds have been obligated, but FEMA will reimburse the county for the federal share of the costs, which is 75 percent.

Pierce said unless Gov. Scott approves the county’s waiver of local share, the county will have a 12.5 percent share of all costs associated with repairing the road, including traffic signals. The cost of the signals is $4,500 monthly so the county would be obligated for about $500 a month.

FEMA staff will seek authorization to allow the county to begin the design process while seeking a Florida Department of Environmental Protection permit for repairs to the road while the EA is being done.

“It now looks like FEMA will provide funds to start the design and permitting process. If that becomes possible, then it will shorten the timeline significantly to getting the repairs to the road started,” Pierce said.

He said FEMA estimates the EA will be completed by March 2018, at which time the county could have secured its DEP permit, and have a contractor selected, before the May 2018 start of the hurricane season.

“Repairs to the road would certainly not be completed by the start of the 2018 hurricane season, but we hope a contractor would be mobilized so that if additional damages occur to the road from some future storm at least a contractor would already be in place,” he said.

Pierce said the preference for road repair is to install vertical sheetpile along the water, a concrete cap between the sheetpile and the asphalt, and a concrete shoulder on the north side.

“The entire road will be an impervious surface to protect it from a hurricane surge from getting under or behind the road and pulling the sand out, which is what causes the road to collapse,” he said.

According to Pierce, the concept of a bridge was discarded at the FEMA meeting because of difficulties in design, since it needs to span the entire area subject to future erosion, including areas not yet damaged. FEMA can not pay for improvements/repairs to a section of road that has not been damaged yet.

Kendrick, who spoke at Tuesday’s meeting, urged the board to focus on this strategy for repair, and said diversions to discuss other options only confused the situation. Kendrick said U.S. Rep Neal Dunn is committed to fast-tracking the road repair project and pledged to call FEMA every week until repairs are underway.

Pierce said beach renourishment would not be addressed in the EA.

Eddie Sosebee, president of the Alligator Point/St. Teresa Association said his organization fully supports Pierce’s proposal, and that APSTA is investigating ways to finance beach renourishment without government funding.

Sosebee said what appears to be the most promising strategy is a toll system, and that parking fees could be charged at a centrally located 100-space lot.

Sosebee said challenges to the toll system include start-up costs estimated at more than $200,000 including $10,000 for a traffic survey to determine where the toll should be collected and how much could be charged.

He said FDOT does not allow implementing tolls on existing roadways, and that it was uncertain whether this will apply to the Alligator Point road restoration project.

Pierce said as of July 7, the FEMA consultants sent letters to the 420 property owners west of the damaged area advising them that FEMA would be completing the EA and providing some contact information.

Pierce said, “I will be providing periodic updates to the Board and the public regarding the EA so that the FEMA consultants can focus on completing the EA in a timely fashion and not be the only source for public information. If there are any questions regarding the EA residents can call me, as my name and number are on the FEMA letter.”