Bay County shows that hurricane recovery is a long, expensive process

Reporter: Gail Levy Writer: Matthew Seaver
Published: Updated:

While Southwest Florida struggles in the aftermath of Ian, there are lessons to be learned from the people of north Florida who survived Hurricane Michael.

When it comes to FEMA dollars and cents, the lesson is patience. Many of you have reached out about the federal money that’s supposed to help.

More than four years after Michael, Bay County is still dealing with FEMA. They are still fighting to get money from them.

Building back better can be a bit ambiguous. “It will be frustrating. It will be time consuming,” said Bay County Manager Bob Majka.

There are pros. “You get new construction. You get you get investment in your community,” said Florida Representative Griff Griffitts.

There are cons too. “We’re still, still more than $100 million in FEMA funding that we haven’t received yet. That’s a lot of dollars… Out of a little more than $300 million,” said Robert Carroll, a Bay County commissioner.

Majka is going into year five of fighting FEMA for more money. “We have $40 million in road repairs that still have to be done, and we’ve broken that up into 10 phases. We’re just now getting approval for the third phase and getting into the fourth phase.”

Majka said the goal is to have all the funding by this fall. “I’m an optimist. I’m not that optimistic, but we certainly don’t want to be sitting here at year 15, trying to still get get things repaired.”

Bay County has made a lot of progress in their recovery since Hurricane Michael, but still, some of the smaller towns, like Springfield and Parker, need some help.

“Those are communities that I think sometimes they don’t have the ability, the personnel to really to push fema to go after grants to go after community block grants,” said Griffitts.

Griffitts was a Bay County commissioner when Michael ripped through the panhandle. Now, he’s in the Florida House of Reprsentatives, working to be a voice for those smaller cities where you still see blue tarps and trailers in front yards.

“The state has to step in and try to help those people out,” Griffitts said.

Even with the huge steps Bay County has made toward recovery, “For the most part, you know, everyone has cleaned their yards up. We’ve put a lot of streets back, put some landscaping in. Tyndall Air Force Base is coming back strong,” Carroll said there is still some basic infrastucture needed. Making the fight with FEMA seem never ending.

“We’re still paving roads. We’re still building facilities back. We still have fire stations to reconstruct. Because guess what, there’s another storm, there’s another wildfire. Right after Hurricane Michael. We had the wildfires in California. So we kind of got forgotten. So remind everyone your story of what you’re going through. And don’t don’t let him forget you,” Carroll said.

With Tyndall Air Force Base on the rebound, leaders said it’s one way to get more people back to Bay County and back into smaller cities like Springfield and Parker because the folks who work on the base end up living in those nearby communities.

“They will have four or 5,000 workers out there this spring. The jets start arriving august 31. We’ll get the first two F35’s. So the sound of freedom will be back in Bay County,” said Carroll.

It has been nearly five months out from Hurricane Ian hit Southwest Florida. A Lee County spokesperson said the county has a $150 million line of credit. So far, $250,000 has been used.

FEMA is expected to reimburse up to $300 million for emergency work and permanent repairs. Recovery certainly isn’t cheap, and if you ask Bay County, it isn’t fast.

Copyright ©2024 Fort Myers Broadcasting. All rights reserved.

This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without prior written consent.