U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney helps with handing out supplies to those in need at St. Matthew's House Boutique Thrift Store in Naples on Wednesday, September 27, 2017. Liam James Doyle / Naples Daily News
U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney begged for patience Wednesday morning as crews continue the months-long slog of clearing fallen trees and debris from Collier County.
"You can look around and you can see that this is a huge task," Rooney said, standing near trees that contractors have piled up off Wiggins Pass Road in North Naples, one of a few collection sites set up in each corner of the county.
How fast curb sides will be cleared of the estimated 4.2 million cubic yards of debris left behind by Hurricane Irma depends on how many trucks and contractors the county can bring to Southwest Florida.
Resources for debris collection are at a premium now, with every county in the state trying to clear its roads and many national contractors tied up in Texas and Louisiana after Hurricane Harvey.
The county is bracing to spend upward of $100 million on clearing debris. That's in addition to an estimated $320 million in damage done to private and public property in unincorporated areas of the county. There is no timeline for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to reimburse the county or homeowners for the costs of the storm.
It's unclear how many of the roughly 1,600 people whose homes were destroyed or severely damaged in unincorporated areas of the county and Everglades City will qualify for federal help. More than 17,000 had applied for transitional housing assistance from FEMA as of Tuesday. FEMA had cut checks to help 169 people stay in a hotel, according to the county.
Although federal equipment and manpower might be stretched thin by Irma, Harvey and the devastation in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, money will not be an issue, Rooney said.
"We've made sure FEMA has plenty of money," said Rooney, a Naples Republican. "But (the storms) might affect the timeliness of when we can get contractors to respond and how many housing units we might get."
Collier County has not asked FEMA for any traveling trailers or mobile units to help house the displaced.
County Manager Leo Ochs said there might be only 1,000 trailers available for the entire state.
"Trailers are going to be the last option for FEMA," Ochs said. "It's a very tedious process and it's difficult to get people in and out at the other end."
The county is working with FEMA to help set up displaced residents at hotels or empty apartments or rental units.
However, Collier County is in one of its worst affordable-housing crunches in its history and people might find rental units hard to find. Apartments have been at capacity or fluctuating between 98 and 99 percent full for more than a year, according to a February study commissioned by the county.
Rooney couldn't say whether more manufactured-housing units will be built or brought to Collier County should the need arise.
"We're arguing as loud as we can as hard as we can for FEMA to pay attention to Lee and Collier counties," Rooney said.
As of Wednesday there were 71 trucks and pieces of equipment spread throughout the county collecting debris, said Dan Rodriguez, deputy head of county utilities.
"It's rare to have that many," Rodriguez said.
The county has focused debris collection on the hardest-hit areas first, including Everglades City, Immokalee, Chokoloskee and Goodland, Rodriguez said.