Manatee qualifies for federal aid to repair millions in Debby damage

rdymond@bradenton.com and mvalverde@bradenton.comJuly 9, 2012 

MANATEE -- The federal government Monday approved Manatee and 19 other Florida counties for federal funds to help pay for damage caused by Tropical Storm Debby last month.

The amount of money Manatee will receive to help restore its beaches hit with erosion and other damage will depend on claims that the county must now file, said Jessica Sims, a spokeswoman for the Florida Division of Emergency Management.

"This is very good news," Greg Bacon, an officer with Manatee County Emergency Management, said Monday. "What this means is that there has been a declaration of need and we have been declared."

The list of affected counties also includes Sarasota and Charlotte.

Manatee County sustained $7.311 million in damage due to Debby, Bacon said.

That figure was arrived at by evaluating damage to public facilities, canals, bridges, roads and office buildings, Bacon said.

"Out of that $7.3 million, I can tell you that $7.1 million is our beaches," Bacon said.

The federal government will pay 75 percent of the funds needed to repair damage, with the remainder needing to come, perhaps, from state and local sources, said Bryan Koon, state coordinating officer with the State Emergency Response Team.

Manatee County also will have to pay up front, Koon said.

"The money is reimbursed upon the project's completion," Koon said.

Manatee County had renourishment efforts planned for 2014-2015 for sections of Bradenton Beach and Holmes Beach. Now with the federal assistance, Coquina Beach also would benefit, according to Charlie Hunsicker, Manatee County's director of natural resources. During renourishment, sand and shell hash is added to a beach to make up for the lost sand.

"Federal assistance from FEMA is very important to our overall renourishment efforts as it will allow the Coquina Beach area to be restored in conjunction with our previously planned 2014-2015 island-wide renourishment program," said Hunsicker.

Mike Shannon, manager of BeachHouse Restaurant overlooking the Gulf of Mexico on Anna Maria Island, said the federal funds were welcomed news and not just for area businesses.

"The beaches are the main draw of Manatee County," Shannon said. "People from all over the region, the country and the world come here. Being able to get that sand and beach to what they were would be a terrific thing, not just for us but for everyone."

BeachHouse has repaired some damage caused by Debby, including the replacement of shattered light bulbs and a metal flag pole that was snapped in half due to high speed winds.

But the restaurant is not allowed to make any changes to the beach, "nothing mechanical," Shannon said. He said he was pleased more help was on the way for the county's beach renourishment efforts.

"We now just have a bunch of tidal lagoons, the children love it, they love to play in the little lagoons," Shannon said. "In some ways the beach is more interesting. But bringing back the nice, white, fluffy sand would be nice."

Ron Luckerman, governor of the Loyal Order of Moose Lodge No. 2188, said their portion of Bradenton Beach had lost about 30-40 feet in sand and about 2-3 feet in height.

"That has narrowed the beach," Luckerman said. "They're all crowded there. We don't get as many people as we would."

He said they were investigating the possibility of legally purchasing sand and adding it to the beach themselves. "If there's any way we can beat the process and dump some sand out there … we are looking into that," he said. "It takes quite a while for (federal funds) and in the meantime we are not going to be any better."

Manatee qualified for the federal funds after a joint preliminary damage assessment conducted by the state's emergency response team and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Sims said.

Manatee's beaches were hard hit, starting with Coquina Beach, Bacon said.

"Coquina was hardest hit," Bacon said. "The storm basically eroded the width of the beach, exposing some of the concrete groins that were in the ground. There were even beach abutments that were in the ground used to protect the beach from storms that were exposed."

Tropical Storm Debby made landfall June 27 in Steinhatchee.

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