Emergency management officials are optimistic they can get Bay County qualified for federal disaster relief funds to repair damage caused by July's heavy rains.
Of the five counties recommended for FEMA recovery funds by Governor Rick Scott, only Holmes, Walton and Washington were included in President Obama's disaster declaration last week. Okaloosa joined Bay as the only other county on the outside looking in.
"Just because we weren't included in the president's declaration doesn't mean that our claims were denied," said Mark Bowen, Chief of Emergency Services for Bay County. "Not only are we continuing to look at this, but the governor and his staff are continuing to assist us with it and so that's very helpful."
The governor said the state's Division of Emergency Management is working with federal officials to obtain funding for Bay and Okaloosa. "They did the right thing on the three counties, so we're going to continue to work to try to make sure the right thing happens," Scott said. "We had this ridiculous amount of rain, we had flooding, we had damage... they should have helped us."
According to Bowen, damage to Bay County's public infrastructure totaled at least $2 million, well above the target of $572,408 established by FEMA. "We feel like we've met the public assistance threshold so it's just a matter of time," Bowen said. "Every day that goes by, we're getting more information about damage."
Bowen said damage included "an enormous amount" of erosion at the Steelfield landfill, washed out roads and flooding at three fire stations. The Northwest Side station on Michigan Avenue took the hardest hit.
"We've had to move personnel out of that station and we've got a FEMA trailer there that they can stay in when they need to," Bowen said. "We're gutting that station... we're taking everything out of it from carpet to the furniture that was ruined."
Bowen said local and state assessment teams have also documented damage to more than 600 homes that are either uninsured or under-insured. "In both areas of individual assistance and public assistance, we're doing the best we can to make our case to FEMA," he said. "The more of those kinds of things we can document, the more likely it is that we're going to be able to achieve what FEMA's looking for."
Bryan Koon, Director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, issued the following statement to News 13:
"The Florida Division of Emergency Management is committed to working with Bay County to accurately catalogue the damage related to the July flooding. After a disaster, it is our priority to assist the community in its efforts to recover and to return to normal as quickly as possible. We support Bay County in their efforts to receive a disaster declaration for this event and will continue to work with FEMA to provide the necessary information as they make a determination for the remaining impacted counties."
Bowen is waiting to see if the combined efforts pay off. "I'm optimistic and I'm hopeful," he said.