Hurricane Irma's tab continues to climb in Collier County
Hurricane Irma's tab in Collier County is at $64 million and rising. Tim Aten
Hurricane Irma's tab in Collier County is at $64 million and rising.
That's the amount the county government has spent or set aside in the first month after the storm on overtime, salaries, generators, food, equipment and cleanup efforts. More than half of the money, $38 million, has been spent clearing debris from roads and curbsides.
That number is expected to top $100 million over the four to six months it will take to clear all the piled branches and trees. The costs will keep rising as the recovery from the storm continues.
The county has paid $7 million to the Sheriff's Office for overtime accrued during the long days immediately before, during and after the storm, according to county records. It has spent $6.2 million repairing water, sewage and stormwater systems. The county has also set aside $2 million for landscaping and $2.5 million to repair county parks. A total of $350,000 has been spent on beach renourishment.
With a federal disaster declared, all of the money spent responding to the storm will qualify to be reimbursed by the federal government. That process can take years, and the challenge for the county will be to make sure it has enough cash on hand in reserves and in banks to pay for the recovery while making payroll and keeping the government open until checks start arriving from the feds.
"We never can tell when that reimbursement will come," Commissioner Donna Fiala said.
The largest expense from the storm is shaping up to be debris collection. Collier County, like many others in Florida, was locked into a contract with Ashbritt Inc. to clear all the debris for $8 a cubic yard well before the storm arrived.
But with debris collection needed in every part of Florida and still ongoing in Texas and Louisiana following Hurricane Harvey, Ashbritt has been struggling to find and hire subcontractors who are either already busy or can make up to $16 a cubic yard clearing debris for desperate Florida counties that either didn't have pre-storm contracts or renegotiated them to get quicker service.
Collier County is stuck with an understaffed crew slowly chipping away at 4.3 million cubic yards of dead trees and fallen fences — that's four times more trash to clear than during Hurricane Wilma.
"We have a job that would typically require 250 trucks working," Commissioner Bill McDaniel said. "At last count we had somewhere between 90 and 97 trucks."
The county's contract gives Ashbritt six months to clear the debris.
With about 170 homes destroyed by the storm, and help for the displaced uncertain from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the commissioners will decide in the coming days or weeks if they want to buy recreational vehicles or other forms of temporary housing.
"I don't want to keep waiting for FEMA and the state and everybody to come together on this housing issue," McDaniel said. "The difficulty is nobody really knows what the cost is going to be. But we can't in good conscience let it go unattended."
It's unclear how much support there would be among other commissioners to buy or provide temporary housing. Fiala and commissioners Penny Taylor, Burt Saunders and Andy Solis all said that housing is primarily FEMA's responsibility, but they would agree to study whether the county could do more.
"We would just have to know what we're getting into and how much we're talking about," Saunders said.
Days after Hurricane Irma hit Southwest Florida, a busy street in the city of Bonita Springs remained under water.
Drone video shows how a flooded field and a four wheeler becomes an opportunity for wakeboarding in the Lehigh Acres area of Southwest Florida.
Drone footage shows the destruction left by Hurricane Irma in the Leawood Lakes and Cape Sable Lakes neighborhoods of Naples. (Video by Rodney White and Michael Zamora)
Drone video shows hurricane Irma's damage to Goodland, a small community along the water in Southwest Florida. USA TODAY NETWORK
- Hurricane Irma drone video: Flooded street in Bonita Springs
- Hurricane Irma drone video: Wakeboarding in Lehigh Acres
- Hurricane Irma drone video: Irma wrecks Southwest Florida neighborhoods
- Hurricane Irma drone video: Boats, businesses battered in Goodland