Note: to register for FEMA assistance, call 1-800-621-3362 (FEMA) or visit DisasterAssistance.gov.
Flagler County and Flagler Beach got two big boosts to their hurricane recovery efforts Monday: The Federal Emergency Management Agency finally broadened its disaster declaration to include reimbursement coverage for homeowners and businesses affected by Hurricane Matthew. And Flagler Beach announced it would reopen its beaches from 4th Street North to 8th Street South on Wednesday, almost two weeks after the storm forced them closed and storm debris and shattered walk-overs kept them closed.
Both developments are key to helping the local economy recover from the storm. Reopening the beaches will bring back the visitors Flagler Beach needs to keep its businesses prosperous. And FEMA’s declaration, which already applied to more than $31 million in government losses, will help the private sector recover from losses approaching $75 million at last count, across the county.
The declaration was not a surprise: President Obama was almost certain to issue it in an election year when Florida is key to Hillary Clinton’s chances of winning the White House. But its timing had dragged, pending repeated visits by FEMA officials last week as they scoured areas that suffered damages to match their own evaluations to those of local officials.
“This is great news,” Barbara Revels, who chairs the county commission, was quoted as saying in a release issued this morning. “This will help those who don’t have the means to get back on their feet after sustaining damage from the storm.”
FEMA’s Individuals and Households Program provides up to $33,000 for housing assistance and other needs, including personal property. Housing Assistance can be used for temporary housing, including rent money or a temporary housing unit when no rentals are available, and repair for damages that are not covered by insurance, “to repair the primary home to a safe and sanitary living or functioning condition.”
Homeowners may apply for a Small Business Administration disaster loan for additional repair assistance, replacement, and, more rarely, semi-permanent or permanent housing construction.
Other Needs Assistance provides grants for uninsured, disaster-related necessary expenses and serious needs. This grant money can be used for medical and dental expenses, repair, cleaning or replacement of clothing, furnishings and appliances, specialized tools and protective clothing required for the individual’s job, and educational materials; clean-up items; fuel for clean-up; repair or replacing damaged vehicles or money for public transportation; moving and storage expenses; and, the cost of National Flood Insurance Program group flood insurance policy to meet the flood insurance requirements.
There are some conditions and qualifications attached to the Individuals and Households Program, such as the requirement for flood insurance and residency status. That’ll be a problem for many homeowners along the Barrier Island, a significant proportion of which have gone without insurance, because of its expense. Those applying for assistance are responsible for providing the proper documentation for FEMA evaluate eligibility.
Meanwhile, Flagler Beach City Commissioner Rick Belhumeur appeared before the county commission Monday evening to announce the reopening of the city’s beaches, at least in its core area, Wednesday.
“Wo we’ll have at least three walkovers open tomorrow,” he said in a brief interview Tuesday. “Then we’ll have a contractor come in over the weekend to do some of the major repairs. All the walkovers north are intact except for the ADA ramp.” He was referring to the walkover along the boardwalk the city built last year, with the Americans with Disabilities-required ramp needing some repairs. “That won’t be fixed probably till the next weekend, then we’ll start migrating north.”
But Belhumeur was disappointed by the county’s response to his appearance Monday evening. “I went to the county and asked for some help, but Craig just blew us off,” Belhumeur said, referring to the county administrator.
“We can use all the help we can get at least putting a few more of these together under an emergency situation,” Belhumeur told commissioners, “and I don’t know if the TDC has anything available to help the county, not just Flagler Beach. This is about everybody that lives in the county because it’s the county that gets the bed tax dollars.” The TDC, which Belhumeur accurately said is “rolling in money,” is the Tourist Development Council, now a county department. Just weeks ago the TDC went on a binge to buy $300,000 worth of stage and concert equipment for itself.
Though Commissioner Nate McLaughlin appeared interested in providing some extra help to the city (Belhumeur said Flagler Beach only has three maintenance people working, and was hoping to get some help from the county and possibly from Palm Coast, from whom he’d not asked for help yet), Coffey said the cities were handling their own repairs, especially because of accounting for FEMA reimbursements. Flagler Beach has upwards of $5 million in such reimbursements for its pier alone.
“They’ve got a contractor that’s doing some emergency repairs to get that over there,” Coffey said, “and all the dunes crossovers through the whole county will be done through FEMA. Each city has to do their own contractor and they’ll get reimbursed by FEMA. It’s not a TDC thing, that’s not the process we need to be following.”
On Tuesday morning, however, Belhumeur himself had gone to Lowe’s to buy lumber for some of the emergency repairs, since the city’s contractor was not due there until the weekend.
“Opening the beach is a priority,” he said. “The longer people, keep hearing closed, closed, closed, it’s going to have a long-term effect.”
Naturally, beach visitors must use the walk-overs, and not the dunes, to gain access to the beach, as walking or driving on dunes and disturbing their vegetation is prohibited.
State Road A1A at the south end of town remains closed, with half of it crumbled. Revels provided a brief update on that situation Monday: “The county of Flagler and the city of Flagler Beach have had a number of meetings and conference calls with the Department of Transportation regarding the repairs to A1A and there’s been some good progress,” Revels said. “They’re not ready to announce yet exactly what’s going to happen but they’re letting out emergency contracts and we hope to see a lot of changes coming forward in the next week or two that would be announced, and we’ll let you know.”