Nearly one month after the Lime Rock Road fire devastated the lives of three dozen Eastpoint families, and left scores of others affected, shelter has arrived.
This week, title to the two dozen surplus trailers from the federal General Services Administration, left over from hurricanes in the Keys, was transferred from the county’s very brief ownership to the Capital Area Community Action Agency, the non-profit agency that will own and manage them.
Capital Area is funding the temporary housing units at a price tag of $204,000, plus the $4,000 in title transfer fees.
In addition, on Wednesday, Sheriff A. J. Smith was slated to move the first of at least five permanent mobile homes, bought from a fund he set up immediately after the fire, and which raised more than $108,000 as of press time.
In a release from the county emergency management office, these permanent structures were slated to go to the families of James Boone, at 599 Ridge Rd.; Lucy Bettinger, at 697 Ridge Rd.; Phillip Holian, at 686 Ridge Rd.; Earl Moses, at 640 Ridge Rd,; and Belinda Nowling, at 674 Ridge Rd.
Land code requirements that must be met for all permanent structures meant the process of permitting the new mobile homes would take a few extra days.
County commissioners Tuesday addressed these requirements, stressing that rules to meet the code for these permanent homes were not waivable, unlike the case of the temporary units. Following the June 24 fire, the county immediately put in place a two-year moratorium for those temporary structures.
“That’s what we have to do as county government” said Chairman Smokey Parrish. “We have to follow FEMA rules and federal and state guidelines. It’s just what we have to do and as a board we will try to do that as quickly as we can.”
Donations made directly to the county totaled more than $216,000 at last official count. In addition to other needs, a portion of this money will coverl infrastructure and regulatory costs for the many residents affected by the fire.
“We are doing everything we can in the scope of our ability and jurisdiction and this is all we can do,” said Commissioner Cheryl Sanders. “We’re all a family; we’re all from Franklin County.
“When you have a tragedy there’s nothing about me, me, me,” she said. “It’s about them, it’s all about what you do, it’s what we do, to help the people.”
Once all the trailers have been cleaned, and readied and prepared for occupancy – which emergency management staffers Tress Dameron and Jennifer Daniels and a team of volunteers began right after their arrival Friday from Homestead, and their storage on school district property adjacent to the county jail – the affected property owners will be assigned them by Capital Area.
According to an emergency management list, primary land owners who were residing in the home at the time of the fire, include Charles Granger, 587 Wilderness Rd,; Glen Woodall, 605 Wilderness Rd.; Billy Dalton, 658 Ridge Rd,; Carol Dasen,615 Ridge Rd.; William Banks, 638 Ridge Rd,; and Mary Thomas, 633 Ridge Rd.
Those who are listedas living in a primary residence which they owned, on rented land, include Paul Sanders, 582 Ridge Rd.; Luther Glass, 595 Ridge Rd.; Shawn Boatwright/ Ortega, 601 Ridge Rd.; Dennis Riner/Thornburg, 667 Ridge Rd.; James Joyner, 701 Ridge Rd.; and Arlene Thompson, 714 Buck Street.
Amanda Hall, 621 Wilderness Rd. is listed as renting both the structure and the land.
Those who rented the structure and who are in need of temporary housing also include Stephanie Johns, 675 Ridge Rd.; and Hope Savage, 691 Ridge Rd.
Secondary residents in need of temporary housing include residents Michael Boone, 599 Wilderness Rd.; Nellar, 624 Ridge Rd.; Carrie Richards, 674 Wilderness Rd.; Henry Parramore, 658 Ridge Rd,; and Nowling, 579 Ridge Rd.
William Hattaway and Melanie Cooper, 607 Wilderness Rd.; and Matt and Paula Polous, 605 Ridge Rd. are listed as either having their own temporary housing or renting at an alternate location.
With lots cleared last week by three volunteer companies and the city of Tallahassee, and with arrangements for electrical, water and sewer hookup all in the immediate plans, the trailers are set for occupancy.
“Power poles and sewage hookup, those two things you’ve got to have before you can put someone into a home,” said Pam Brownell, emergency management director, back to work following surgery in the days immediately after the fire. She thanked Dameron and Daniels for their work in her absence.
“We’re just trying to do it the right way,” said Commissioner Ricky Jones. “The stance of this board is we’re not just going to wheel them in there and plop them down. It needs to be done decently and orderly.”
Parrish opened the meeting with a strong statement of support for all the many county employees, and numerous volunteer individuals and businesses, who have been diligent in responding to a variety of needs.
“There’s often been no mention of what our county employees have done for us, and I think it’s prudent now. The cleanup over there went really well. Everybody jumped in and done their part,” he said.
“There’s a lot of people in our community who really worked hard over there and got no recognition. There’s a tremendous amount of people,” Parrish said, making a point to name as many as he could.
“I want to recognize those people on behalf of the board,” he said. “This was a concerted effort, a collaboration of all the different departments and independent constructors.”
In a long-term move, the county took steps to work with Debbie Belcher, the grant writer who has for many years has handled the Community Development Block Grant process, to secure additional state funds in conjunction with an earlier grant.
Belcher outlined details of how state officials from the Florida Department of Economic Development, have been willing to waive rules that set levels of funding based on applying the county’s low to moderate income (LMI) population. This temporary waiver would apply to a previous $700,000 grant received for the 2016 fiscal year, and would end no later than Dec. 31, 2021.
“The county is requesting the funding ceiling for Franklin County's CDBG Housing Rehabilitation project be increased to $4,463,529 for the specific purpose of addressing the housing needs left in the wake of the Eastpoint Limerock wildfire,” Belcher wrote in a letter to a state official.
Because of the outpouring of donations to the county, of everything from toothpaste to clothing and furniture, Franklin’s Promise Coalition, which administers long-term recovery operations on behalf of the county emergency management office, is asking for donations to be strictly monetary.
“We’re still taking in furniture donations, but we have no room for any more clothes. No personal toiletries or cleaning supplies, we have an abundance of that,” said Tamara Allen, chair of Franklin’s Promise’s unmet needs committee.
“What we really need are new mattresses, we have some gently used mattresses,” she said. “We’re seeing the beginning of people being able to use the amazing and bountiful donations that have been made.”
The county emergency management office agreed last week on the terms of a memorandum of agreement with the city of Carrabelle to lease, rent-free, temporary space at the Carrabelle city complex, several rooms of which have become completely filled with donations.
Allen said four families have so far received move-in kits from Franklin’s Promise, which consist of a kitchen garbage can and cleaning supplies; a personal hygiene basket; a basket of linens, towels, and sheets; a box of housewares, such as dishes, glasses and silverware; and an electrical appliance of their choice, either a coffee pot, crock pot or microwave; and pots and pans.
“So far four sets of people have come in, two were single adults, one was an older couple and there was a family, a mom, a dad and two kids,” Allen said.
“Our goal is to have 20 additional kits available this week,” she said. “We have enough prepared that they’re all ready to go.”