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Property owners pained by blocked-off Leslie Street
People who live or work along Leslie Street, the small street alongside the county courthouse that has been blocked off since before Hurricane Sally in Sept. 2020, are losing their patience.
Beth Embert, owner of the Blue Moon Inn at 19 Leslie Street, voiced her displeasure at last week’s Apalachicola city commission meeting, and she was not the only one.
She said the street has now been closed for one year and 10 weeks, and that the effect has now gone beyond just being an inconvenience to folks who have to get to the courthouse.
“This is costing myself and some of the other individuals,” she said.
Embert said difficulty with parking, as well as a dearth of passers-by, is taking a toll on her business. Not to mention a two-car garage loaded with heavy construction equipment.
“I used to get at least one person a week, either by driving or walking by,” she said. “We don’t get those calls anymore.
“The street looks like an abandoned city. It has cost me and my business money,” Embert said.
She said “a serious safety issue” has emerged at the corner of Leslie Street and Commerce Street.
“That stop sign doesn’t mean anything,” she said. “My guests that include children will come out of the inn and the traffic is whizzing right by. I keep cutting the bushes around it (the stop sign) so people can see it.”
Embert’s views were echoed by Jimmy Gander, who owns property nearby. “My concern is it doesn’t seem to be being addressed,” he said, noting that estimates for the repair work have ranged from $500,000 to $1 million.
Joshua Stephens, with Dewberry, the city’s engineering firm, said the city has applied for grants but hasn’t received them.
“Now we’re going to alternate funding sources,” he said. “We have people talking to DOT (the Florida Department of Transportation) as we speak, because the damage starts on their right-of-way. The ball is in their court.”
City Manager Travis Wade said the city has met with representatives of the Florida Division of Emergency Management (FDEM), the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, DOT, and FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency).
“We applied under FEMA’s Hurricane Sally (funding) and the FEMA reps came and looked at it and after several months they came back and said ‘We can’t prove it was from Sally’,” Wade said.
“We went around and around for months and months, and we appealed their decision. FEMA denied it and sent it to FDEM,” he said. “They sent it back to FEMA and asked them to reconsider. It’s back in FEMA’s hands with the urging of the state.”
If the Oct. 29 decision by Melissa Shirah, FDEM’s recovery bureau chief, stands, the city will succeed in securing nearly $534,000 for Leslie Street.
“On another funding front we’re going to the DOT and asking them,” Wade said. “On another front we’re going to research another grant that would just do road resurfacing, and then fund repairs to the system separately.
“It’s not been pushed aside, it’s not been ignored. It’s just been a constant struggle,” he said. “I’m embarrassed that it hasn’t been done but we don’t have the $1 million or the $500,000. We have to look for outside money.
“It’s a constant fight to get it done and we’re working on it still,” Wade said.