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Tuesday, Sep 16, 2014
Politics

FEMA wants $560K back from Tampa for storm

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— The Tampa City Council will be asked this morning to approve repayment of more than $560,000 the city received from the federal government after Hurricane Frances a decade ago.

City officials have pulled together the reimbursement from reserves in the current budget. About two-thirds of the money has come from the solid waste department.

The rest has come from the sewer department and the general fund reserves.

The city got more than $6 million in federal and state aid after Frances, one of four hurricanes to strike the state that year, passed directly over Tampa.

Frances inundated Bayshore Boulevard, left behind damage and tons of debris.

The storm struck Sept. 5; the cleanup ended more than six months later. The federal review began in 2008.

This week’s repayment comes as the Federal Emergency Management Agency finally closes the books on the storm, said Aaron Gallagher, spokesman for the Florida Division of Emergency Management.

“It’s not unusual for an event to still be open 10 years later,” Gallagher said.

Hurricane Andrew, the most costly hurricane in U.S. history when it hit South Florida in 1992, closed in 2009, 17 years after the storm hit.

“That is an extreme case,” FEMA spokesman Kurt Pickering said.

FEMA and the Federal Highway Administration paid Tampa based on estimated cleanup costs.

The final tally came in lower after subtracting items that weren’t eligible for reimbursement.

For example, the city reported collecting 119,113 cubic yards of debris in the wake of the storm. Federal officials could account for 98,495 cubic yards, partly because of missing or incorrect paperwork.

Also, highway officials asked to get back money used to repair damage to East 21st Street and Bay Avenue, streets that aren’t part of the federal highway network.

Altogether, the city reported 257 cave-ins beneath local roads due to saturated ground and collapsing subsurface utility lines. FEMA estimated 184 collapses were directly related to Frances and Hurricane Jeanne, which passed over the area three weeks later.

Jeanne’s bookkeeping remains an open case for federal accountants, said Pickering.

In 2010, FEMA required Tampa to pay back about $240,000 given to restore beaches eroded by Jeanne because the agency had no proof the restoration work was ever done, said Gallagher with the Division of Emergency Management.

Tampa is appealing that repayment, Gallagher said.

kwiatrowski@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7871

Twitter: @kwiatrowskiTBO

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