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State backs city’s challenge to FEMA rule change

The Florida Division of Emergency Management has backed
Apalachicola’s appeal of a more than half-million-dollar claim that FEMA had
rejected based on a recent rule change regarding roads submerged by flooding.

If the Oct. 29 decision by Melissa Shirah, FDEM’s recovery bureau
chief stands, then Leo Bebeau. the city’s s finance director, will succeed in
securing for the city nearly $534,000 for Leslie Street road repairs based on
high winds, heavy rain and flooding from Hurricane Sally in Sept. 2020, a
slow-moving Category 2 hurricane that dumped between 20 to 30 inches of
rainfall in many Panhandle locations.

Bebeau had appealed the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s
rejection, and Shirah said FEMA had deviated from established processes, and
urged the agency to reconsider its decision to disallow all funding “and
determine the extent of the disaster damages to the (city’s) facilities.”

In her letter, Shirah noted that FEMA does not provide
funding for repair of damage caused by deterioration, deferred maintenance,
failure to take measures to protect against further damage, or negligence. But,
she goes on to say, a newly introduced Submerged Roads Policy, that places additional
considerations specific to submerged gravel roads, is being wrongly applied.

“FEMA is now requiring applicants to demonstrate actual
gravel surface loss, reimbursing only for portions of the road that were
disaster damaged, excluding rutting of submerged sections, and stating outright
that corrugation is not eligible for repair or restoration,” she wrote. “The
policy does not provide any reasoning or explanation concerning why FEMA
concluded that these items are not caused by inundation.”

In her letter Shirah says the policy “has resulted in mass
de-obligations for disaster damages resulting from inundation of unpaved roads.”

She wrote that FEMA’s focus on ensuring its programs are
accessible to underserved and historically marginalized communities is
undermined by the new policy.

“Many unpaved roads are located in rural areas
typically classified as fiscally constrained (and) this is especially true for counties
impacted by Hurricane Sally, (since) nine of the 14 declared counties are
classified as fiscally constrained,” she wrote. “Applying this policy disproportionately impacts these
communities and effectively prevents them from recovering from disasters.”

Shirah wrote that Franklin County’s median household income
is far below the state and national medians, with more residents living below
the poverty line than either the state or nation.

“Furthermore, the COVID- 10 pandemic has resulted in
significant losses in available local revenue. The city cannot absorb the costs
of repairing the damages caused by Hurricane Sally, and should not have to as
these are damages that are ordinarily eligible for reimbursement if not for the
recently promulgated policy,” she wrote, urging a reversal of the policy “because
it disproportionately impacts vulnerable communities and leaves them unable to
recover after a disaster.”

Bebeau said he was pleased the FDEM sided with his appeal.

“They’re throwing down the gauntlet,” he said. “FEMA has
started denying a whole lot of claims from small communities.”

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Meet the Editor

David Adlerstein, The Apalachicola Times’ digital editor, started with the news outlet in January 2002 as a reporter.

Prior to then, David Adlerstein began as a newspaperman with a small Boston weekly, after graduating magna cum laude from Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. He later edited the weekly Bellville Times, and as business reporter for the daily Marion Star, both not far from his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.

In 1995, he moved to South Florida, and worked as a business reporter and editor of Medical Business newspaper. In Jan. 2002, he began with the Apalachicola Times, first as reporter and later as editor, and in Oct. 2020, also began editing the Port St. Joe Star.

Wendy Weitzel The Star Digital Editor

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